Lisa Birch, former WEA student, gave a rousing speech on the importance of lifelong learning at a recent parliamentary reception.
When Lisa left school at the age of 16, pregnant, and with few qualifications to her name, she never imagined that she would one day be studying for a Master’s degree at university. Without the chance intervention of an outreach worker from the WEA, Lisa’s life could have been very different.
Read Lisa’s speech and become inspired about the positive change that lifelong learning can bring:
I stand here today. And I know some of you may not really understand the importance of those words. So let me say it again. I stand here today.
I’ll start at the beginning. I got pregnant when I was 16. The last year of formal education. As you can you imagine? My exams didn’t go well. Skipping forward. The next years of my life were just one challenge after another. I started as a single mum on benefits. I know what it is to cook your baby’s meals in a kettle because the B and B I was forced into didn’t have cooking facilities. Later, even after I met my fabulous husband Ian, life was a constant struggle. He worked all the hours he could and we still didn’t have enough to live comfortably. And when my second child was diagnosed with Autism, a whole other struggle was added. Inevitably, my self-esteem, my confidence, were obliterated. I felt Isolated, I was without power. I was depressed. I was in a bubble and there was no space to create a different destiny. When I was 38 years old, all that changed. The WEA was active in my neighbourhood. ‘Thank goodness’. The first WEA class I went to was a 2 minute walk from my front door, at the local Children’s Centre which was a safe and familiar environment from home. Even so, I was petrified. Shaking like that
I’m not kidding you. I walked in with my pink fluffy pencil case and a notebook. But it was so good. My passion for learning was instantly sparked. I was hooked. Today, I stand here before you as a Ruskin graduate. I have a degree in social and political studies. I’m just finishing up my Master’s Degree. And I’ve just started a job, as the Recruitment and Outreach officer at Ruskin. The first job in my life that really fits my passions. A job that means something to me, and hopefully to others. I’m also honoured to be Chair of WEA Oxford Branch. Ruskin and the WEA have given me so much. Now it’s my turn to give something back. I’m going to guess that some of you here will think that people like me, who’ve managed to achieve despite the barriers, you might think that maybe it’s just that I’ve got chutzpah. That there was already something different in me compared to many other people in my community, But I STILL live in MY community. I haven’t left it behind. And I don’t intend to. I listen, I experience, I see the frustrated hopes and aspirations of all the fantastic people around me, who deserve better. I was there once. And I can tell you. All it takes is for the WEA, Ruskin or any one of these fantastic Educational Institutions to be there. To be there, breaking down those barriers. Reaching out with their unique ability to connect.
I cannot emphasise enough how the unique support and passion of the tutors I’ve encountered has empowered not only me but all others I bear witness to today. And let me be clear, the educational journey doesn’t only change the life of the person who takes it. It’s deeper and bigger than the individual. I’ve seen it. It impact’s massively on our children, our families, our friends, our communities.
Education changes lives and transforms communities! So Let me just finish by saying it again. I stand here today.
Lisa delivered her speech at the APPG for Adult Education’s parliamentary reception in July 2016. The APPG has called for a cohesive national strategy for lifelong learning in the wake the report it recently commissioned – Adult Education: too important to be left to chance .
The report is based on independent research from Warwick University and is a comprehensive review of the benefits of adult education for individuals, employers and communities, addressing in particular the most disadvantaged in society.