Picturing adult and community learning’s impact

One of the shopping bags that I used at the supermarket yesterday has an image taken from a postcard that the WEA used a few years ago as part of our campaigning activities. It struck me that its message is still very relevant following last week’s launch of Family Learning Works and celebration of European Social Fund Community Learning Grants in Manchester.


The image reinforces the message that modest funds can make a big difference to individuals, families, communities and society. It also gives a subtle nod to the WEA’s deep and longstanding roots in communities and our network of branches.

Statistics and stories of achievement and the distance travelled by people who benefited from the ESF Community Learning Grants programme show evidence of this, as does the research presented by the Independent Inquiry into Family Learning. These were the focus of the last two blogs here.

Evidence from projects supported by the Community Learning Innovation Fund tell a similar story and there’s a quick video summary showing the impact of WEA work last year at http://www.wea.org.uk/about/whatwedo/impact. Our Pound Plus research at http://www.wea.org.uk/about/whatwedo/pound-plus adds further evidence.

Are any other past campaigns that are still relevant? Perhaps we should revive a few.

74%!!! That’s remarkable – ESF Community Learning Grants

I’ve been in Manchester today at a celebratory event for projects funded by the European Social Fund’s Community Learning Grants scheme. The ESF scheme has focused on improving employment opportunities in the European Union and on helping to raise standards of living. The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) has been administering the North West of England’s grants programme, worth £2m, since 2011.

Over 150 local voluntary and community organisations and charities have been funded through the scheme to provide training and support for some people who are furthest from the labour market and least likely to find work.

Statistics from the project evaluation are very impressive – and all the more so as the projects have been running in some of the region’s most hard pressed communities.

Projects from Barrow to Birkenhead have supported people to develop new skills from fork lift truck driving to film making, from horticulture to hairdressing. Those who have benefited range from people over 50 years old, living on isolated housing estates to ex–offenders, homeless people and people with a learning difficulty.

158 projects have successfully engaged at least 3575 participants to date. Of the people who took part, 62% were female, 37% were people with disabilities, 21% were over 50, 38% were from an ethnic minority and 17% described themselves as lone parents.

74%%Yes. That’s 74% (based on data reported so far) from communities that are often labelled ‘hard to reach’.

98% of participants were surveyed. Of those, 86% of participants rated their programmes as ‘Excellent’ and 11% as ‘Good’.

As ever, the statistics don’t do justice to the individual stories of achievement and hope that we heard today.

  • James from Care Network told us about Kim-Marie who’s just got a job after more than 10 years out of work.
  • WEA Tutor Linda spotted one of her students on a video and explained how he’d gone from being alcohol-dependent to starting a degree in Criminology.
  • The Lorna Young Foundation supported a new social enterprise who had their produce on display. (You can visit them at: http://www.oromocoffee.org/default.asp)
  • Paul, who was made redundant a year ago and worried that his disabilities were a barrier to finding further work, is now working for his local council in Chester.

These stories are just the tip of that ‘74% iceberg’ and it’s worth remembering that the maximum grant to any individual organisation was £12,000.

The saddest aspect of the programme is that 711 voluntary and community organisations applied for the funding. Over 550 had to have their applications rejected. There’s so much more need for funding support that reaches otherwise marginalised people and has a positive impact.

This works – and now more people do so as well.

It works because of the partnerships, networks, expertise, commitment and creativity of many voluntary and community organisations who know how to make it work.

Congratulations to them all and to the WEA’s ESF team as well as partners including Locality, Community Matters and Network for Europe and the Skills Funding Agency who oversaw the ESF funding.

Now we really need to get the message out there that a comparatively small amount of funding can make a very big difference if it’s spent wisely.