I spent a very enjoyable day in the London region last Friday visiting the Mulberry and Bigland Schools, the Burdett Neighbourhood Centre and the Poplar HARCA.
These partnerships have been developed in Tower Hamlets. Despite the towers of Canary Wharf, much of the borough still suffers from severe deprivation and it remains one of the most deprived areas in the country.
In this community the WEA has managed to create, with its partners, some inspirational examples of adult and community learning which are boosting skills and confidence.
I sat in on a session which was all about community interpreting.
All the ladies taking part were learning how to be an interpreter through role playing and giving constructive feedback to each other. The session was particularly instructive because the interpreter was engaging with an issue of bullying in a school. Parents were asked to play a proactive role in overcoming the bullying, and by the end of the session they were able and willing to do this.
Everyone was learning from the session, not only in terms of English Language, but how to stand up for yourself, protect your children and ensure they can attend school.
Later on in the day I met Josephine Adu, who runs the Poplar HARCA, and she showed me with great pride the centre she is running which has state of the art equipment. Numerous unemployed adults are gaining computer literacy skills and help in applying for jobs – facilities which are simply not available anywhere else. They are also given one to one counselling which is essential for them to make progress.
Finally I visited a dress making class in the Burdett Neighbourhood centre, run by Mona Nashed, an Egyptian lady who was coaching mainly Muslim women in the arts and crafts of dressmaking.
Some of the ladies were there primarily to develop professional and personal relationships outside their home environment and to use their interests and skills to make clothes for their children. It clearly gave them a valuable lifeline through which they are achieving great satisfaction for themselves and a benefit to their families.
This visit on its own was a really good example of the multiple benefits which a WEA adult learning class can deliver and I was left with an abiding impression that both the partnerships, the staff, the tutors and the students were reinforcing each other’s achievement at every level, focussing on progression, support, evaluation and personal resilience as well as the more obvious outcomes.
As London develops to include these communities in regeneration schemes it appears to me obvious that the WEA has an important role to play – connected as it is to a myriad of voluntary sector organisations and delivering a broad range of skills and resources which are badly needed. I would like to include some of these projects in our return on investment studies and when I left the Mulberry Centre we agreed that the next step would be to invite the local MP to come and visit these projects.
As I was visiting the projects I was thinking aloud about the number of businesses in the area who might be willing to sponsor our projects or otherwise get involved. In the next few months HARCA will be launching various fundraising appeals and already has great contacts in the employer community. I was asking myself how can we work with HARCA to get our message across about the value of adult learning and how can we equip our students to face this very challenging labour market in London?
Anyone who has any ideas, please respond to this blog.
I’d like to thank Audrey Stewart and Nita Karia for organising my day and for making sure that I was able to be part of a learning experience I shall never forget it.