Adult education, singing, health and wellbeing

Howard Croft, WEA Projects Development Manager, has shared this link to a 6-minute film highlighting key outcomes and impact from a successful ‘Singing for Wellbeing’ project in the West Midlands region.

This research project explored the impact of adult education singing classes on people’s health and wellbeing.


This was a 12-month research project led by the WEA and run in partnership with University of Oxford. It was supported by the Rayne Foundation and Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

As well as individual students’ comments, the film includes the following statistics:

  • 87% of research participants reported improved mental health as a result of taking part in WEA singing courses.
  • 90% reported increased feelings of social inclusion or belonging.
  • 68% reported a desire to attend more adult education classes.
  • 92% reported increased levels of confidence.
  • 60% reported improved physical health.

singing logos


Health and Wellbeing is one of the WEA’s four educational themes. The others are: Employability, Community Engagement and Culture.

Health, wellbeing and adult learning

Improved health and wellbeing can be a driver, a vehicle and an outcome of adult and community learning. This summarised part of an online discussion today with colleagues from other organisations. We agreed to think of some examples from our organisations. Here are some from the Workers’ Educational Association.

Health and wellbeing as a driver for adult learning 

Many people get involved in adult learning to improve their physical and mental health.


The WEA carried out an impact survey in 2013 of 522 students who had taken part in a range of our adult learning courses in the autumn of 2012. 45 per cent of the people who responded said that their main motivation was ‘to improve wellbeing or keep mind and body healthy and active’. 31 per cent said that they had wanted ‘to improve self-confidence’. The full results of the survey are available here.

Health and wellbeing as a vehicle for adult learning 

The WEA runs many courses and projects with health and wellbeing as a focus. Community Learning for Healthy Living (CLHL) is just one from many examples.

Snapshot from a CLHL flyer

Snapshot from a CLHL flyer

This was a three-year project (2010-13) that aimed to improve the health and wellbeing of over 3,000 adults in predominantly BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities through provision of structured courses that combined preventative health education with physical exercise. The project addressed the problem of obesity and related risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease that are prevalent among targeted communities in disadvantaged areas of Birmingham.

The project involved extensive community outreach to encourage people to take part in activities especially designed for their needs. Activities also focused on building partnerships with community organisations and key agencies to develop a comprehensive, inclusive and culturally appropriate health provision programme.

You can read an evaluation report of the Community Learning for Healthy Living project here.

Health and wellbeing as an outcome of adult learning 

Nearly all respondents (98 per cent) in the WEA’s 2012-13 impact survey reported a positive social or health impact as a result of doing their course, whether it had a direct health focus or not. The majority (87 per cent) noted the course had kept their mind and body active. This figure rose to 94 per cent in those with a long-term physical or mental illness.

Overall, 69 per cent of respondents said the course made them feel better about themselves generally and this increased for those with children under eighteen (75 per cent) and for those with a long-term physical or mental illness (73 per cent).

A virtuous circle

‘Health and Wellbeing’ is one of the WEA’s four educational themes. The others are ‘Employability’, ‘Community Engagement’ and ‘Culture’. All the themes are interlinked and it’s interesting see students like Melrose Logan from Dudley, who has contributed to community engagement as volunteer improving other people’s health.


Melrose was keen to improve her own health through better diet and regular exercise, but she also gained an unexpected knowledge and understanding about anatomy and physiology from  being involved in the WEA’s Tandrusti health project.

After training as a volunteer with Tandrusti, she regularly takes large groups for health walks around Dudley and promotes and encourages the regular exercise message within the community. Following her successes, Melrose now has a full-time job.

Background to this blog 

This blog was prompted by a discussion of issues relating to health literacy and numeracy. Colleagues involved in the collaboration include:

  • Jonathan Berry, Community Health and Learning Foundation
  • Sarah Gibb, National Numeracy
  • Annie Gilbert, Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited
  • Tricia Hartley, Campaign for Learning
  • Ann Malone, Health Evolution
  • Prof Gill Rowlands, King’s College London, who is leading the initiative

Guest blog – Conference motion on Health and Wellbeing –

Lindy Gresswell, Chair of the WEA’s Yorkshire and Humber Region, has forwarded the text of a speech supporting one of the region’s motions to last weekend’s members’ Conference. She’s sharing this as a guest blog. Lindy is a WEA student and active volunteer. She says that fellow Regional Committee member Hugh Humphrey also helped to shape the text. It’s an example of how WEA members and volunteers contribute to the Association’s development and planning through our democratic processes.

Lindy Gresswell

Lindy Gresswell

“President, delegates; Lindy Gresswell Yorkshire and Humber Region

The WEA, by giving Health and Wellbeing its own separate theme obviously recognises the benefits of this type of education.  We are now asking the trustees to initiate a dedicated marketing campaign that will inform students of these benefits.

Learning and education can have a positive effect on wellbeing. This has been reflected in numerous research studies. The Coalition Government’s new mental health strategy recognises the link between learning and mental health.

Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation says:

… learning interventions could form part of the solution for people who have less severe symptoms of mild or moderate depression and anxiety as well as for those who are already on the road to recovery.

 He suggests that: Primary Care Trusts and future GP consortia should, in cooperation with local authorities, consider commissioning such programmes.

The Foresight report also quotes, ‘Learning through life has direct impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of the UK population across all age groups.’

The benefits of adult education can also be seen in other areas.  From the publication, ‘The Contribution of Adult Learning to Health and Social Capital’ Leo Feinstein et al say that,

Participation in adult learning is a significant factor in positive processes of psychological and social development, ’and appears to have all the ingredients of confidence building and rising social awareness.

At present local authorities and colleges don’t appear to offer a great deal in this area and although there are all sorts of initiatives in the community these tend to be very ad hoc, often short lived  and not co-ordinated in any way. There is a real opportunity for us to ‘up our game’ and establish ourselves in this area.

There is also research that acknowledges the benefit of volunteering on health:

A report commissioned by Volunteering England suggests that the benefits of volunteering can include:  A longer life, a healthier lifestyle, Improved family relationships, Meeting new people, Improved self-esteem and sense of purpose.

It should be possible to put together a comprehensive WEA personal development programme which would lead on to people joining other WEA courses, volunteering or other activities.  One approach could be to establish three or four flagship courses and get these into every area of the country

Obviously, a group needs setting up to look at what we have got and develop a strategy. Once we are in position to deliver a number of key courses to all parts of the country, which includes having the right tutors available, then we can initiate the marketing campaign referred to in the motion.

There may well be initiatives afoot already but we do need to move on this quickly. It is an area we have been good at over a number of years but we have now created ourselves an opportunity to move up a gear.  It is essential that we do so.”

Conference delegates voted in support of the motion so expect to see further action on this topic for the benefit of students and communities.