I was introduced to the WEA (Workers Educational Association) and Endurance creative writing class in Hoole Community Centre, Chester in 2009, run by Tina Scriven. The Endurance organisation, which is a partner organisation with WEA, was started by a member in the AA Fellowship and supports people addicted to alcohol and drugs. Endurance developed to include adults with depression and emotional problems (like me), to encourage them back to learning with new skills, career opportunities and to feel more confident about their personal and learning abilities.
Having been fortunate to be in the education system all my life, I went onto Higher Education after school and college. I had to leave two degree courses due to nervous breakdowns, but completed the third degree which I was accepted on. My last breakdown completely overtook me. I was committed to hospital for a month and had to leave my workplace. I put a lot of pressure and blame on myself. When I joined the WEA class, I had no self confidence, had ceased all my interests and only saw close family, and friends intermittently. I had no confidence in my writing abilities either: I’d always enjoyed the process of reading and writing, but my breakdown left me feeling I had nothing to offer. I felt accepted within the class. I made friends with a student, Alan, and he mentored me, encouraging me to write and socialize more. I gradually began to write stories and poetry about my family background and experiences. I felt each piece of writing formed a jigsaw piece, so each time I placed one down I understood more about myself. I wrote about my grandmother and identified with the isolation and depression she felt. I began the process of writing a book about my family background and how their experiences have been passed down in different generations. I explored alcoholism in my family and how we’d been affected by it. My mum came to the classes and I understood her more as a person, not just a parent.
The creative writing class started an allotment venture: we wrote a poem based on it, which I read out in a Hoole Endurance and WEA awards ceremony. The allotment became a spiritual home for me, as I coaxed Alan, who had health problems, to walk down the road where we met Tina. We fought the obstacles that faced us in the allotment, until we achieved a semblance of order and success.
As well as the creative writing class, I received support from the hospital; care in the community, my family, friends and husband. I also joined WEA through people I met in the class, which is a group aimed at people with emotional problems. For me, working the twelve step program provided a stability and way of living that enabled me to realize short and long-term goals.
The confidence I developed through being part of a community class and committing myself to it every week, encouraged me to apply for voluntary work in St. John’s church, which led me to work with another church, St. Peter’s. I started to run a voluntary arts and crafts workshop in the church within a supportive well-being group called 3rd Space, by utilizing my artistic background to help draw out students’ innate creativity. In the same way that writing can be a cathartic, imaginative process, I view art as therapeutic and enjoyable. I’ve also been able to drive again. I visit family around the country on train, I went on holiday abroad and intend to travel more in the future. I have developed strong family and social networks and live a satisfying and varied life.
I gained certificates in the WEA and Endurance creative writing class and even joined a community choir which was set up in Hoole, through the class. Tina asked if I could help teach students in her writing classes, utilizing my literacy skills. This led me to being employed as a WEA support tutor. I can identify with learners with disabilities which make them feel isolated or who experience confidence and emotional problems; which are often associated with learning difficulties. I achieved the PTTLS initial teaching qualification through WEA and I enjoyed going back to studying. This qualification was an introduction to teaching adults in community learning, which is a direction I’m following after trying to find a meaningful vocation for years. I next completed a level 2 teaching adults’ basic skills qualification at Deeside College.
My tutor Tina nominated me for NIACE (now Learning and Work Institute, Festival of Learning) Student of the Year and I was awarded the WEA Regional North-West winner, which was a really good but unexpected surprise! I attended the WEA national awards ceremony in Birmingham’s Custard Factory which was a great experience: also the first time I’d properly visited Birmingham. The other students and groups nominated for awards seemed very outstanding and I felt honoured that I’d been considered accomplished enough to achieve the award.
Not long after gaining the WEA award, I was telephoned by a learning manager in Manchester Catherine Kay, who was looking for a tutor to teach a new Ascentis course and I had been recommended by my PTTLS tutor. I accepted the role and successfully finished teaching my first course recently, as well as helping out with the course at another venue. This September I’m starting my arts class in St. Peter’s as a paid WEA tutor, and will be commencing two other classes in Manchester teaching the Ascentis course.
Because of my positive experiences as an adult learner, I would support anyone who was thinking of starting a new course, especially in community learning. If they are concerned about starting a course because they haven’t felt they belonged in formal education, I would re-assure them that community learning is much more inclusive to individual needs and accessible: centres where learning takes place are often easier to travel to. I also believe that adults can learn at any age and the process of self-development and progress never ends.
Founded 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.