Word Association

Thanks to the twenty or so people who have responded to the last blog by submitting comments or emailing me directly. It’s good to find out more about people’s opinions and ideas. Although relatively few in number, replies have come from students, tutors, branch volunteers, regional voluntary officers, field staff, managers, a Trustee and an administrator. Some additional exchanges have also taken place on social media.

The WEA is a networked and democratic organisation and it’s good to know that there’s an increasing appetite to use digital technology in our day-to-day practice. Making the most of contemporary networks and links should be second nature to us as our traditions are based firmly on the idea of collective learning within community-based settings.

Varying definitions of the word ‘Association’ capture some of the WEA’s characteristics and the importance of making connections:

Association (noun)

1. a group of people organised for a joint purpose

2. a connection or cooperative link between people or organisations:

3. a mental connection between things:

4. the state of occurring with something else

Much of our learning and development involves sharing ideas and making mental connections between things, people, ideas, actions and reactions. We are active in many partnerships and WEA students are not passive or isolated recipients of tutors’ transferred knowledge. Our approach to learning echoes W B Yeats’ description of education as. “not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. Connecting with people from varying ages, backgrounds and cultures can challenge and change our perceptions and lead us into fresh learning networks and resources.

It’s important that our methods of encouraging these connections are appropriate for our times and circumstances and we need to work together on this but it’s also fundamental that we are clear about our ‘joint purpose’ and the legal foundation for our connections and cooperative links in the WEA.

Our Governing Document as a registered charity provides a formal statement of our ‘joint purpose’. Many people involved in the Association are very familiar with our legal aims and objects but it’s useful to remind ourselves of the purpose of our courses and activities so that we can plan coherently as our ways of working continue to evolve.


The object of the Association is to promote adult and general education for the benefit of the community regionally, nationally and internationally based on democratic principles in its organisation and practice, through the participation of its voluntary members.


  • stimulating and responding to the demand for liberal education, through the direct provision of courses and other activities;
  • relieving poverty and providing for the needs of working class people and of those who are socially, economically or educationally disadvantaged and in particular (but without limitation) by providing education and teaching skills for employment, voluntary work and social inclusion (defined as promoting equality, diversity, multi-cultural awareness, human rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international instruments, participation in civil society including volunteering, self-confidence and self development among the disadvantaged, literacy, numeracy and vocational education and skills for the unemployed and those at risk of unemployment, all towards supporting the disadvantaged of all ages and enabling improvement in their education standards, levels of social, economic and cultural engagement and general health and well-being);
  • providing educational programmes for appropriate organisations concerned with collective educational needs in the community and in the workplace;
  • generally furthering the advancement of education to the end that all people in England, Scotland and other parts of the world may have full access to the education needed for their complete individual and social development;
  • promoting the efficiency and effectiveness of charities with similar purposes and the efficient and effective application of resources for such purposes, in particular by promoting and disseminating educational programmes and models of activity, projects or good practice developed or carried out by the Association nationally and internationally in any appropriate form or format, and by the delivery of support services generally to such charities.

The full Governing Document is available online at http://wea.org.uk/download.aspx?id=7

It is timely as we settle into our New Look structure and ways of working that we pause to consider how each of our courses and activities helps us to achieve our core object and aims.

How do we use our resources and connections to promote adult and general education and to make sure that people associate the WEA with inspiring learning experiences, raising aspirations and working towards a fairer, more tolerant, more educated and inclusive society?

How should changing social circumstances affect what we do and how we do it?

Click the link at the top right of the blog to leave a comment or to read any that others might have made.

About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1GI0QK1

4 Responses to Word Association

  1. Lindy Gresswell says:

    Interesting that liberal education is top of the list! Are we, as an Association, losing sight of this? Present economic climate and government thinking are making this a difficult area for us to deliver.

  2. Rob Hindle says:

    A useful reminder of what we are, Ann. The regional launch of WEA Yorkshire and Humber Inclusive Archaeology Education Project (or Digability, as it is becoming known) – at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre on Friday brought together a huge diversity of people – learners, volunteers, tutors, partner organisations, archaeology and heritage professionals and WEA staff – to celebrate the start of a project which is centrally based on the idea of ‘association’ (in the first three senses of the word). The event allowed people with a joint purpose, albeit with very different experiences – a Muslim women’s group from Bradford, a group of people with learning difficulties from Rotherham and two wheelchair users among them – to come together and begin to make connections (not just networks, but real, social/emotional links) which are vital to the sustainability of activity which seeks to challenge preconceptions about ability and encourage more people to get involved in the exploration and curation of what is, after all, our shared heritage.

    As for the fourth definition of ‘association’ (and with reference to your comment, Lindy), perhaps the event was also a celebration of the existence of something IN SPITE OF something else – or the lack of it. Archaeologists, disability and mental health support services, museums, charities – everyone is struggling; and everyone was pleased that the grant secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund for this project has enabled us to work together on this important activity.

  3. weawalkers says:

    Thanks Lindy and Rob. Great to hear about the Digability launch. The project is an excellent example of the WEA’s object and aims being translated into action. The point about ‘connections’ in contrast with ‘networks’ is well made too.

  4. gogwit says:

    Reblogged this on Gogwit's Blog and commented:
    A voice heard over the whistling of the wind through the sagebrush and the rumbling of the tumbleweed in the Google + wilderness…

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