WEA Awards 2014

The WEA celebrated achievements by students, volunteers, tutors and other staff from all over England and Scotland with an uplifting awards ceremony in Birmingham on 12 November.

ConfinactionYou can read more on the WEA’s website here and read a round up of tweets from the event here.

Congratulations to all award winners.

Democracy and voice

We sang at the WEA’s Yorkshire & Humber Region AGM in Leeds today. You don’t get that kind of exuberance in most shareholders’ meetings.

The (fully booked) get-together before the business part of the meeting focused on ‘Democracy, Active Citizenship and the Role of Voice’.  Prof. Stephen Coleman set the scene very engagingly in his William Alderson Memorial Trust Lecture on this theme.

Prof. Stephen Coleman

Prof. Coleman got our attention straight away, saying that, “Voice is the foundation technology of democracy but not all voices are equal.” In a rousing performance, he talked of the need for all sorts of voices that are, “confident, unbound and efficacious”. Quoting from John Milton and Edmund Burke, he went on to describe, “an entire history of disrespect built on prejudice”, with a “spurious connection” between people’s style of pronunciation and their authority to speak.  He warned that we shouldn’t mistake sullen and silent anger in society for civic contentment. Identifying 6 civic capabilities, he showed excerpts from a website at www.youthamplified.com, which he urged people to explore.

Various examples of  ‘WEA Experiences’ followed his lecture. These were impressive in showing how students and volunteers had gained confidence and found voices with the WEA.

Students from an Asian Women’s Sewing Group showed their skills in a stunning fashion show. The soundtrack encouraged some impromptu Gangnam Style moves from several people as well as nods of admiration and enthusiastic applause. The women from Crosland Moor also won the Learning Group of the Year award and were full of praise for Judith Boardman, their ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Tutor.

Award winners’ acceptance speech

In a change of pace and tone, we watched a short film that WEA students with experience of homelessness had made. They described some changes that they would make to Doncaster if they had a million pounds to spend. The film was an excellent practical illustration of people speaking about what’s important to them in their community.

Mark Goodwin and the Bumble Bee Barbarians then had us spellbound as they talked about the triumphs and impact of mixed ability rugby and the creative training that the WEA is building around the sport. Students with a learning difficulty or disability gave a presentation that was both moving and funny. They challenged several stereotypes and managed to make some serious messages entertaining.

They showed how they are tackling inequality, in a very literal way, and finding their voices.

Mark Goodwin (R) & some Bumble Bee Barbarians

Rob Hindle, Nicola Thorpe and Victoria Beauchamp’s presentation about Digability, a WEA Community Archaeology Project, was another example of inclusion that builds on people’s interests. They showed clips from a film about the project. This is available at http://youtu.be/rccUF2VuhA0. They emphasised how important it is for organisations to work together and the key role of volunteers like Beth Deakin.

Beth Deakin, Volunteer of the Year

Lindy Gresswell, Yorkshire and Humber Region’s Chair, presented regional awards to even more applause.

As well as the people mentioned already, Lindy presented certificates to:

  • Julie Harrison – Nominated for WEA Student of the Year
  • Jill Iles – Nominated for Special recognition award: Education
  • Janet Driver – Nominated for Special recognition award: Administration and support services
  • Ron Moreton – Nominated for Special recognition: Long Service Award
  • Open Door Hate and Mate Crime Group – Nominated for Most Innovative Partnership Activity

Energy levels were kept high by the WEA’s ‘Easingwold Sings’ Choir. Some of us thought we might be sitting back to be entertained – which we were – but taking part is in the WEA’s DNA so we had a quick singing lesson and found our voices quite harmoniously.

‘Easingwold Sings’ Choir

The high spirits and sense of communal activity were an excellent curtain raiser for the business part of the meeting.

‘Making a Difference’ – WEA Parliamentary Event and Awards

This blog is a bit different. I’ve experimented with Storify software to make a narrative out of tweets. It’s my first attempt so it’s very much learning in public.

I’ve collated some tweets about the WEA’s ‘Making a Difference’ Parliamentary event last week to capture some of the comments that people made as the event unfolded. There’s a link at:


I’d be grateful if anyone has any hints and tips about using Storify or any comments on it.

Twitter is still a foreign language to many people so the Storify’s introduction has a link to a site that explains twitter symbols and acronyms.

(The WEA runs social media courses if you want to find out more. You can find regional contact details at http://www.wea.org.uk/local if you’re interested in a course about twitter or other new media. There are many online resources for independent learning too.)

The WEA Awards Ceremony followed the Parliamentary event. It was an inspiring and emotional event.

The winners were:

Olive Cordell Skills for Life Tutor

  • Laraine Clark

Olive Cordell Skills for life Student

  • Luzayadio Mputo

WEA Volunteer

  • David Dennehy

WEA Student – Joint Award

  • Alec Buchanan
  • Julie Harrison

WEA Learning Group

  • Tammy Spriggs, Lisa Harrington and Janine Ginno

Diversity in Practice

  • Tandrusti

WEA Campaign

  • Why Vote?

Contribution to Sustainability

  • Women’s groups at Clovelly

WEA Tutor

  • Janet Henson

Innovative Partnership

  • WEA and Horizons

Innovative Branch and WEA South West

  • Activ8 for Carers

Special Recognition: Education

  • Sahira Tariq

Special Recognition: Support services and WEA Eastern

  • Kathryn Coles

Special Recognition: Long service

  • John Hurst

WEA Scotland

  • Bathgate Once More

WEA North East

  • Elizabeth Langdown

WEA North West

  • Ties to the Past

WEA Yorkshire and Humber

  • Beth Deakin

WEA East Midlands

  • Learning into Leadership on the Internet

WEA West Midlands

  • Shiyalini Mohan

WEA Eastern

  • Kathryn Coles

WEA London

  • Mike Bradley

WEA South West

  • Activ8 for Carers

WEA Southern

  • Adler Mosaicists

WEA Ambassador

  • Nigel Todd

There’s a wonderful booklet outlining their stories. It should be available soon at www.wea.org.uk.

Parliament, Politics, Emily Wilding Davison and the WEA

Several threads are weaving together in the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) this week.

We have a Parliamentary celebration coming up on 7 November with WEA students, volunteers, staff and supporters joining MPs, peers, funders and partners at Westminster. Our Trustees will be taking active roles at the event, which we’re holding during National Trustees’ Week.

The WEA is also backing a new campaign for a minute’s silence at next year’s Epsom Derby to commemorate Emily Wilding Davison’s death in 1913. Emily made the ultimate sacrifice as a suffrage campaigner fighting for women’s rights to vote. She was one of our own, having been active in the WEA.

100 years on and the WEA is still campaigning for greater equality in politics. We launched a ‘Women into Politics’ project in Nottingham last Friday.

Parliamentary event, 7 November

There are more details about our Parliamentary event at: http://www.wea.org.uk/News/parliamentaryevent.aspx

We’re looking forward to celebrating award winners’ achievements, including recognition for a campaign encouraging people to vote. The event is causing a lot of excitement and will give many people a chance to visit the Palace of Westminster, building on educational visits that we continue to organise in partnership with the Parliamentary Outreach Service.

It’s timely to know more about Emily Davison’s story and her links with Parliament.

Emily Wilding Davison (1872 – 1913)

Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Davison’s challenges and campaigns are still all too relevant a century after her death. She couldn’t afford the tuition fees to complete her first course of higher education and faced discrimination because she was a woman. Famously, she died four days after being trampled by the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. She was making a dramatic protest in support of women’s right to vote.Her personal experience of discrimination fuelled her campaigning zeal.

Having won a place at Royal Holloway College to study literature when she left school, she had to withdraw because she couldn’t pay the fees. She worked as a governess before taking up higher education again and achieving first-class honours in English in the Oxford University examination for women. Oxford degrees were closed to women in 1895 so she couldn’t graduate. She became a teacher and returned to higher education, graduating from the University of London before working as a teacher again. Emily joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906 and gave up full-time teaching in 1907 so that she could devote more of her time to the WSPU. She also became involved with the WEA during this period and is reported to have been a member of the Marylebone Branch’s Executive. Emily was a militant suffragette and was jailed several times for some of her attention-grabbing protests, being force-fed in prison.

Penni Blythe-Jones (@WofWWW on twitter) is organising the petition for a minute’s silence at the 2013 Epsom Derby. There’s a link at http://emilywildingdavison.org/?page_id=11. Kate Willoughby (@2FCPlay on twitter) is working with her. There’s also a lot of background information on the internet about Emily’s life and death as well as the more traditional sources of biographical information.

Suffragettes and the Palace of Westminster

Emily Davison plaque

One of Emily Davison’s most creative campaigning activities involved her hiding overnight in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster on the night of the 1911 Census so she could record her place of residence as the “House of Commons”. A plaque in the building commemorates this event. There’s a permanent display about the suffragettes located off the Central Lobby, on the way to the public gallery of the House of Commons. It includes a suffragette medal and a scarf belonging to Emily Davison.See http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/exhibitions-and-events/exhibitions/suffragettes/ for more details.There’s also a case study of Emily’s Parliamentary campaigns at: http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/womenvote/case-study-emily-wilding-davison/

The WEA, Women and Politics

The WEA has a very long record of political education and of encouraging men and women to take an active part in democratic processes. We are non-party political and work in partnership with several other organisations to promote political education through initiatives such as the recent Democracy Week. Some of our educational projects and courses are specifically for women as they are under-represented in local and national politics.

We launched a new ‘Women into Politics’ project in Nottingham on 2 November. You can follow the project’s blog at: http://womenintopolitics.wordpress.com/. The project builds on a tradition of many linked activities in England and Scotland. We have developed ‘Women Be Heard’ courses with various groups and we also use history as a way of raising awareness of a range of current equalities and social justice issues.

Many WEA students, members, tutors and staff in Scotland took part in a memorable Edinburgh Procession in 2009 in support of ‘Gude Cause’. They dressed in period costume, carried banners and wore sashes to identify themselves with one or other parts of the Women’s Suffrage movement. See http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/WearingtheColours_tcm4-672114.pdf.

The WEA can be proud of its early record on gender equality. We began life in 1903 as the ‘Association to Promote the Higher Education of Working Men’, changing to our current name of the ‘Workers’ Educational Association’ (WEA) in 1905 to be more inclusive of women.

It’s important to reflect and learn from history, to celebrate achievements and to reassess the challenges. There’s still a great deal to do.