I’m surprised to be standing here

Mersey ESF grants celebration 0615No-one is more surprised than me – and delighted – to be standing here. By ‘here’, I mean standing in front of you all, introducing the ESF Merseyside Community Grants Celebration event.

About twenty projects were receiving their certificates and various members of staff and volunteers were in the audience, the lovely venue of the Neuro Centre, just next to the coach station in Liverpool. We talked and listened and shared our stories – of how one partner had made life seem meaningful again for someone after losing their sight. It also gained a further year’s sustainability funding. Of how another had got two people into jobs after a twelve-week course. Another started ‘we only got eight people into work as a result…’ and was interrupted by the woman behind her, a member of the peer panel review network, the group which decides which applications are successful. She said that if the Work Programme had got eight people into work after one of their courses, they’d be trumpeting it from the battlements and roaring into the ears of politicians.

She continued, ‘Make sure you share as widely as possible the achievements of your project with local politicians, funders, to let them know how well the limited funds you received have made such an difference to people’s lives. And keep on monitoring because the changes in people after your courses and support may not appear till several months down the line. So, keep in touch with them and keep a record.’ Of course, we can’t do that…or can we?

I thought if each one of them did this and then somehow shared the evidence in one place, we would be able to see clearly the huge and significant impact of investing in informal adult learning. The voluntary sector plays a key role in making learning more human, in breaking it down into smaller steps in places where people feel they belong, are welcomed and are motivated. We heard a lot about motivation…from staff and volunteers but vitally from peers, especially those who had gone through a similar journey and done it! We heard about the struggles to change and adapt to the funding requirements. It hasn’t been easy for many, yet the struggle has been worthwhile as so much learning has happened for the training provider. Is there somewhere a single repository for our glorious works..? Or a sample thereof?

The WEA works through its partners. We are a small team on Merseyside with many existing partnership arrangements already in place. Yet, we still find room for new growth, for new, creative ideas to emerge with new partners. Our programme is continually changing – www.nw.wea.org.uk – for information and we somehow find room for new shoots.

As we’re funded by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), there are constraints on what we can do. We mainly fund courses with discretionary learning support and fee remission available in case of need. There are minimum class sizes (13 on average) and, except for maths and English which are free at entry level, there is a course fee. So, we may not be your dream partner. Some of our courses, however, may be ideal progression for some of your students (or beneficiaries). Tell them about us. Find out what we do. Talk to us.

We pride ourselves on being a ‘first step’ provider, enabling adult students (post-19), put off by their previous experience to come back into learning in all sorts of ways. We cover nearly all the areas of learning which fit into our four themes – employability, health and wellbeing, culture and community engagement. We’re like a mobile college without the wheels. We come to you at community and workplace venues and see what happens next…so much does. It’s amazing. Our tutors and students are amazing!

So, get in touch with Bernie, Debbie, Richard or Alex (northwest@wea.org.uk ). At the very least, we’ll have a conversation. Something may come of it.

Today, I learned loads about the work of our ESF partners; how each organisation, each tutor and trainer, the admin and finance staff, their volunteers and mentors give that ‘wee lift’ their students need to get going at the start.

Just time for a group photograph, and then food. A good place to pause. Some said this was an ending. Well, an ending is also a beginning, isn’t it? Let’s hope so.

Cereal Killer

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