Research and Practice in Adult Literacy – a friendly group

Vicki Colyer

Vicki Colyer, WEA

Lindsay Cussons and Vicki Colyer

About a year ago, after suffering severe anxiety and depression following a horrific incident of domestic violence alongside personal struggles with alcohol addiction, I was introduced to Therapeutic Arts & Crafts at St Peter’s Church by a friend also in recovery. At this point in my life, I had no confidence and my self-esteem and self-worth was at an all time low.

Prior to this I was a lecturer and had a successful career teaching many subjects at college and university level. However, at this time I had been unable to work, was isolating myself and rarely interacted with other people.

I started at St Peter’s as a regular member of the art class and, although I had studied art at A level, I had limited technical skills as I had not kept it up. This, however, did not matter as the class included all abilities and people from all walks of life. Slowly, my confidence came back and I found it also assisted with other areas of my personal development such as applying for additional courses and looking for employment.

An opportunity then arose whereby I was asked if I would be interested in being a paid support tutor for the class that I regularly attended. As I had been out of work for two years I was still lacking in confidence somewhat. However, as this was to do a role I was familiar with and had prior experience in, I was delighted that I had been asked and I felt like this was a perfect stepping stone towards regaining the life I would like to have back. I accepted immediately and even before being interviewed realised the impact that being asked had had on my self-confidence. The support role would involve assisting certain learners with specific needs including paperwork, practical work as well as being involved with field trips when necessary, all of which I have had experience with and believe I would be able to do effectively. As a former lecturer in higher education, I understand the importance that adult learning has on the lives of individuals wanting to progress in life; and as a person who has suffered personal difficulties, I appreciate how essential finding an outlet and safe environment can be on moving forward with your life. These are two things I have found to be key within the foundation of what 3rd Space at St Peter’s offers and I am truly grateful that I can now be a part of this and am able to give something back.

Tutor Perspective: Amanda Derry

I needed support from someone in my arts group who was confident with helping students in their practical artwork and paperwork and who had experience in this area. Taking students out on field trips was also a consideration. I have students with learning needs and was finding it difficult to provide the one-to-one help they required. Vicki had been in my class for a few months and mentioned she was looking for employment. When the opportunity arose I asked if she would like to be a paid support tutor and she was delighted to accept. I thought Vicki would be a good support as she had previously been an adult learning tutor, is very capable and efficient in dealing with paperwork and learners with different needs, and has a very enthusiastic approach in the class.

Vicki has experienced abuse with a former partner, and has had addiction issues. This meant she was out of the workplace for a while and her confidence had been eroded. I’m hopeful that the arts class can bring her back into employment and resurge old skills as well as learning new ones. 3rd Space, the partner organisation who run the venue the class operates under, is a well-being group aimed at helping people in need within a cultural hub of different workshops. Vicki was referred through one of the services which 3rd Space is in contact with. I feel that she can help others through her experiences, and contribute towards the group where we support each others personal and learning development:

“The art class at St. Peter’s has reconnected me with learning a subject I loved but never took further than A level. It has reminded me of the therapeutic beauty that learning and doing art can have on your soul and well-being.”


WEAFounded in 1903, the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) is a charity and the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education. In 2014/15 we delivered 9,700 part-time courses for over 70,000 students in England and Scotland with classes in almost every local authority area and our work in England was assessed in 2014 as ‘Good’ by Ofsted.

The WEA is committed to supporting students to develop their English and maths skills and offers a range of non-accredited and accredited courses across its nine regions in England. For many, our provision serves as a first step back into learning. It is central to our mission, vision and our approach to education and learning. Many of our English and maths students are enrolled on entry level provision, hoping to gain higher level qualifications in the future to secure employment or to further their learning. Many face a number of challenges including low self-esteem, a lack of confidence in their skills, poor pay or unemployment and challenging living conditions. We work in partnership, within communities, to reach those often hardest to reach; providing them with opportunities to develop their skills.

With the support of nearly 400 local branches, 3,000 volunteers, 2,000 part-time tutors and our active membership, the WEA provides high quality, student-centred and tutor-led education for adults from all walks of life. We bring education into the heart of communities, helping people learn whatever they want – from maths, English and skills for employment, through health and wellbeing courses, to cultural studies that help students broaden their horizons and community engagement programmes that encourage active citizenship.

We believe learning is for everyone and learning is for life. It helps people feel that anything is possible. It can be life-enhancing and life-changing – improving health, self-confidence and creating positive changes that ripple out from individuals to communities.

We also have a special mission to reach those who want to improve their lives and communities. Education is a beautiful and powerful tool for tackling economic and social disadvantage because it raises aspirations and helps people create their own change. We campaign for adult education and whether you want to become a student, member, volunteer, tutor or partner, you are always welcome to the WEA.

So learn the WEA way – friendly, accessible education on your doorstep. You do not need any previous knowledge or qualifications to join most of our courses, only a willingness to share with others your curiosity, ideas and experience.


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