Monthly Archives: July 2013

The day I became an Ambassador

A few years ago, I thought I may write the heading above an article about becoming the UK’s first ever deaf Ambassador. I was headed in the right direction, having obtained a Deputy Ambassador’s post and with several years’ experience at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office behind me. The financial crisis and hardening attitudes to supporting disabled staff in government departments changed all that.

So rather than receiving the red-sealed parchment certificate from HM the Queen investing me with the power to represent her in another country, I received an attractive green name badge.

Rather than going through an official ceremony with the government of a different country, I travelled to Leicester. Yes, Leicester. The call came from a different source, but one whose values I rate more highly than my ex-employer’s and one which I am proud and honoured to represent.

The values of the organisation are: democratic, equal, inclusive, accessible and open.

The organisation’s vision is ‘A better world – equal, democratic and just; it challenges and inspires individuals, communities and society’.

At a time when people are finding it difficult to make ends meet, this organisation has 3,000 active volunteers. The work it does changes lives, enabling people who are often on the margins of society for various reasons to learn, play a full role, get employment and develop. Few things could be more important.

As I took part in the briefing about becoming an Ambassador for this fantastic body, I felt something I have not felt for a very long time: heartened: Heartened that the UK still boasts organisations with such strong integrity; heartened that 15 of us had agreed to represent it voluntarily at a wide range of levels; heartened that there was a group that was ready to campaign and fight for equal rights. There was a sense that we would be participating in something meaningful which could bring real results. I hope that had events worked out differently, that I could have felt the same about representing the UK government abroad, but of course I was denied the opportunity to find out.

Those of you who have already learned with, worked with or heard of the Workers’ Educational Association may have guessed that it is the WEA for whom I recently became an Ambassador. For those who did not please visit their website and find out a little more. I guarantee you will learn something new.

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Success and digging deep

I imagine many of us watched the tennis match on Sunday the 7th July and saw Andy Murray grit his teeth, strain every nerve, and those of the crowd, to achieve the elusive title of Wimbledon Champion. It was an extraordinary feat watched with almost painful intensity by thousands of devoted fans, and millions around the world. We all have a satisfaction in success, and we all want a little of the action for ourselves.

Looking around the UK at the moment we have never needed inspiration more. The recession drags on.

The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) settlement, whilst not catastrophic for the WEA, will inflict most damage on fragile communities and many individuals will experience redundancy and insecurity for themselves and their families.

The WEA is fighting back. This year we will have delivered a strong and solid performance against all our key objectives. This is a tribute to the teamwork which I see every day and the efforts we all put in every day – like Andy Murray we will not be beaten.

My visit to Rochester – our admin and support hub for London and Southern regions was a case in point.  The team there is an example of excellent practice in the WEA. Smooth and efficient practices resulting in excellent support for our tutors and learners. Despite managing huge amounts of change the Rochester office is full of smiling faces, high morale and a commitment to succeed.

This month has also seen the temperature rise both in respect of the weather and politics.  We are seeing the parties gearing up in time for the next election ( May 2015 ) and the referendum in Scotland ( September 2014 ).  The WEA has been proactive on Family Learning, The Pupil Premium, and the impact of WEA learning working with our knowledge and research and through our partnerships, but also through our parliamentary friends, supporters, volunteers and ambassadors.

We have three major campaigns running this year on disadvantaged women, learning for parents and families along encouraging people to engage in local decision-making in the run up to next year’s European elections, the Scottish referendum and the 2015 general election. Our voice will be important on issues of disability, community cohesion, health and wellbeing, in-work poverty and lack of access to affordable further and higher education. We will also be emphasising the importance of culture and the arts to inspire and enthuse adult learners, combat isolation and improve lives. We will also be fundraising for our colleagues in Zambia, sharing knowledge and experience.

The 40% drop in adult participation in learning over the past few years is very worrying and so far the policy response has been disappointing. There is no clear political focus on adult education or a widespread recognition of the social and economic benefits of adult learning  If our economy is to be successful we must find ways to be innovative and create opportunities for adults in their communities to progress and to learn throughout their lives. This is the unique contribution of the WEA.

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