A tale of two cities (Nottingham and Chelmsford)
October 7, 2012 1 Comment
I spent last Friday morning at the launch of the WEA’s “Women Leading Learning” project in Nottingham. It was one of those mood-boosting days that happen in adult education when people share their stories. Students gave their testimonies about how learning had transformed their lives for the better. Occasions like this are almost evangelical. Each person’s story could be the makings of a novel, drama or film. Some women had got jobs, some had overcome depression and some had gone into local politics as a result of adult education courses. One had done all three. It was a joyful celebration.
Antonia Zenkevitch was an expert compère as WEA tutors, staff, volunteers and people from partner organisations added their voices and took part in creative activities. There are more details about the event, links to photos, including the one above, and some video clips at http://womenleadinglearning.wordpress.com/5th-october-launch-event-programme-and-details/ You can also scroll down ‘Other WEA Blogs’ in the right hand column of this page to a find a link to ‘Women Leading Learning’.
(For the record, I also support the Men’s Sheds movement http://menssheds.org.uk/.)
On Saturday I joined branch volunteers and staff at the WEA Essex Federation’s Annual General Meeting in Chelmsford. I’m grateful to their Chair, Ron Marks, for inviting me and for the opportunity to share thoughts on teaching, learning and assessment and our ambition for WEA education over the next 3 years.
There was a good turnout from the county’s 43 volunteer-led branches with reports, presentations and group discussions. Colchester MP and WEA Patron, Sir Bob Russell joined the meeting, where people raised issues about democracy and change as key themes for discussion. As well as reporting on the year’s highlights, people debated various concerns and niggles. This is natural in a democratic organisation where students, volunteers, members and staff can express their views and they can now be explored further through the appropriate channels.
It was encouraging to hear and read about branch activities and educational projects in Essex including a Cultural Olympiad and plans to digitise the Region’s archives. People from at least two branches mentioned that they had 96-year old students in their courses. This reminds me that I should re-check how many WEA students are over 100 years old. It’s amazing that there are some.
The balance of work done in the previous year was interesting and there were yet more descriptions of great tutors and of adult education that had given people a fresh start when their lives had seemed almost without hope. An account of student Tammy’s aspiration to become a midwife against all odds had people spellbound. Tammy had been in and out of care as a child, left school at 13 and was on a life path that seemed destined to repeat the same cycle for her own children. Her story, like Alice’s, Mel’s, Keren’s and other women who spoke in Nottingham on the previous day, offer living proof that education can be an escape route from one life path and onto a better one. We also saw evidence that learning helps to keep people active in their communities as well as stimulating their brains into their 80s and beyond..
Over the two days I heard about some of the WEA Award winners who will be honoured at our Parliamentary event on 7 November. That will definitely be another day with a feel-good effect.