WEA Eastern Regional Council Meeting
March 11, 2012 1 Comment
Thanks to Peter Threadkell, Chair of the WEA’s Eastern Region, for inviting me to the Regional Council meeting in Cambridge on Saturday 10th March.
The meeting attracted a lively crowd of people who seemed to be chatting enthusiastically or listening intently throughout the day. At a rough estimate more than 100 people were there, with most of them being active volunteers. Various people described long journeys with early morning starts when they talked to me during breaks. Their commitment to the WEA is impressive.
The day was a good mix of formal business and workshop sessions on a range of themes that included:
- Publicity and marketing – How do we attract more learners to WEA courses? (Andrew Westwood-Bate)
- The role of the Community Programme within WEA (Gorete Downey and Sarah Moore)
- Branch Committees – How do we attract new volunteers and what can be done if we can’t? (Ron Marks)
- Federations – How can we develop our County Federations? (Sheila Bond)
- Modes of provision – Study Circles, Weekend Groups and Lectures (Phil Coward)
Everyone joined two workshops of their choice. Debate was open, sometimes challenging, generally creative and always democratic. People across the WEA will recognise some of the issues as familiar themes – and hopefully share responses more widely. It’s good to know that Regional Officers from Eastern Region will be meeting later this month with their peers in the WEA’s Southern Region, so that they can share ideas on strategic approaches to their respective Regions’ development.
Unfortunately I missed an attention-grabbing contribution about the use of paper plane kits as publicity for WEA courses – which seems to be taking the idea of circulating fliers with literal creativity. I’d love to hear more about this and check whether I heard correctly.
I enjoyed the day and was particularly impressed by the levels of attendance, engagement and willingness to consider new ideas. The Region’s Centenary plans for 2013 sound very interesting with a balance between commemoration, celebration and a focus on future progress.
It was fitting that Sheila Bond paid tribute to Reg Carnell, a former District Secretary, who died recently. Sheila’s description of his life was a moving reminder of the power of education to change people’s lives. Born to a working class family, Reg came into adult education as a student through trade union learning, making the most of his opportunities and progressing to higher education at Ruskin College in Oxford before his work with the WEA.
As an aside, various people referred to the importance of partnerships with other organisations during the day’s discussions and someone mentioned links with the BBC. It’s a coincidence that I was at a BBC meeting during the previous week to find out about the launch of a drama series highlighting adult literacy themes. ‘Secrets and Words’ is a series of 5 stand-alone afternoon dramas that will be shown on BBC 1 from Monday 26 March to Friday 30 March. There will be links to help lines and support. WEA colleagues and partners should be aware of the dramas so that we can be ready to deal with any enquiries that arise, either by guiding people to appropriate WEA courses or to alternatives with other local providers. There is more information about the series online at http://bbc.in/zmPTds.
At the end of the Regional Council meeting Phil Coward, the Regional Education Manager, described a project to digitise archived WEA documents to publish them online. He circulated copies of a ‘WEA Eastern District Souvenir’ brochure covering the period from 1903 to 1924. Phil drew our attention to a quotation from a WEA tutor to his students:”My aim is not necessarily to make you think as I do but I shall have failed in my purpose if I do not succeed in making you think.”
As with most WEA gatherings, the meeting left many of us with a lot to think about.