Learning from the past and shaping the future

Successful adult educators and students learn from the past, embrace change with enthusiasm and adapt to new ideas and circumstances. At best they innovate and lead development. The current round of Annual General Meetings in the WEA brings these activities to life as we reflect on the 2013-14 academic year and share plans for this year and beyond.


As an educational organisation with more than 110 years of history, we can look back on a proud tradition and core values that keep bringing us back to our abiding vision, values and purpose.

We want to make sure that our educational movement is as relevant to future generations as it has been in the past.

Our recent AGMs and get-togethers have been upbeat with a sense that we are refreshing our democracy and looking to the future with even more resolve to improve people’s lives through adult education that challenges and inspires.

WEA NE Banner

The WEA North Eastern Region’s banner

The WEA North East Region’s Annual General Meeting, 15 November 2014

The banner on display at the North East Region’s AGM captures some of the WEA’s spirit. It’s made from traditional silks and patterns but includes 21st century images from the Region. Campaigning for adult education – the right to learn – is at its centre.

Moira Riseborough, Ian Roberts, Russell Porteous and Michael Crilly, who are voluntary Regional Officers and a Trustee, steered us through the usual AGM formalities. Students, tutors, volunteers, members of governance and management and friends from partner organisations all took an active part in the meeting, focusing on the present and very recent past, with some stories of notable practice in teaching, learning and volunteering.

Greg Coyne, the Regional Director, brought the Annual Report to life by using the example of a gardening course taught by Amelia Luffrun. Amelia had encouraged students to stretch their learning beyond practical gardening skills to think about wider environmental issues and sustainability. The students had gone on to enrich their experience by sharing some of their new-found skills with men attending the Day Centre at St Clare’s Hospice in South Shields. The students taught the Centre users how to make bird-feeders from recycled materials.

“Giving something back”, is a theme that we often hear from students who become involved in voluntary activities as a result of their learning.

Greg Coyne's final comments on the gardening course in South Shields

Greg Coyne’s final comments on the gardening course in South Shields

The Right Reverend Martin Wharton, the former Bishop of Newcastle, spoke from the heart at the meeting. He described his own experiences as an adult learner, acknowledging a debt to the WEA that surprised those of us who didn’t know his background. He spoke about how he had left school with few qualifications, but  took up part-time study with the WEA as a mature student. He built on this learning and went on to gain a degree at Durham University before training for the ministry at Oxford. His story is one of countless examples from the WEA’s history, but progression to become a Bishop is a one-off student outcome – as far as we know!

We celebrated Kath Connolly and Grant Crichton’s achievements as worthy winners of WEA Awards before a session on the WEA Manifesto and some lively group discussions looking to the future and sharing ideas to develop and support our:

  • tutors;
  • branches;
  • sustainability.

Nigel Todd, a WEA Ambassador and Regional Committee member, shared this cartoon. It was a good stimulus for discussion in the group who concentrated on sustainability.


The groups came up with specific ideas for action, so we ended the meeting with a focus on the future after we had celebrated the past.

P.S. We love a bit of rousing singing in the WEA.


The North East Socialist Choir

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

2 Responses to Learning from the past and shaping the future

  1. jmiskin says:

    And as the NE Region celebrated another great year so too did the YH Region. Nearly 100 people participated at the Doncaster Mansion House.
    Following a light lunch and the opportunity to browse a variety of stalls they joined a Creative Writing workshop, a ‘Why Vote?’ workshop or joined a Tour of the Mansion House.
    These were all well received.
    At 1:45pm the audience witnessed a fine short production by the WEA Castaway Group and a brief input on the WEAs social purpose agenda.
    There followed the Award Presentations which were done by Rosie Winterton MP. The award winners were: Martin Glover (Regional Winner) who volunteers in a mental health arts group in York, Linda Duffell on behalf of the helping in Schools Tutor Group (Regional Nomination for national tutor award) and the Tour de France Mosaic student group (Nominated for student group of the year).
    Our guest Speaker was Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre of Public Health
    at NICE, who gave an impassioned and enlightening talk on health inequalities and what needs to be done to address them.
    The day concluded with AGM Business.
    All in all a day to remember and an organisation to be proud of, with special reference to the volunteers, tutors and students without whom………………………

    • Ann Walker says:

      Good to hear about the Yorkshire & Humber AGM, Jol. It sounds as vibrant as ever. I’ll be interested to hear more about what Mike Kelly said.

      I met Martin Glover in Birmingham last week when he was presented with his Association-level Award. He spoke very movingly about his role. The Helping in Schools Team have been consistent in their great work for many years and the Tour de France really galvanised people in the region to do all sorts of adult learning.

      Thanks again for the summary.

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