Steve has worked in engineering for most of his life and came to Catch22, a charity that supports young people, to train as a volunteer mentor for young people who are in difficult situations. During two and a half years mentoring he has achieved a huge amount of personal and professional development. In his professional life he had already gained a range of qualifications, including training and certification in Auditing and Quality Assurance, City & Guilds in Computer Aided Design and HETAS (solid fuel advisory) certification.
His learning in the voluntary sector, supported by the European Social Fund, has included initial training in Mentoring, Alcohol and Drugs Awareness, Financial Awareness, and Advanced BTEC Certificate in Mentoring. He has just started a Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) course. He also runs a football team for Catch22, and has obtained FA Level 1 Certificate in Football Coaching and FA Age-Appropriate coaching.
His commitment to learning inspires his young mentees. “It has opened so many doors for me and the more knowledge I get, the greater my enthusiasm for life becomes,” he says.
Thai-born Kanchana (Kay) came to the UK in 2000. A lone parent and carer for a young son with severe epilepsy and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), she has overcome extreme challenges and language barriers.
Formerly unemployed, she was recruited by the Intermediate Labour Market project, operated through Hertfordshire Careers Service, which gives paid work experience to people with significant barriers to employment.
Kay’s learning has been part-funded by the European Social Fund, and she has progressed from pre-entry to level 1, through to level 3 and has now gained qualifications in Accountancy, Sage and Book-keeping. She has gone on to complete an ESOL course, City & Guilds Literacy at level 2, and level 2 in Effective Business Communications and Public Service Interpreting (these courses represent a full level 3 qualification).
Following a work placement with Herts Careers Service, she was offered a job as a junior administrator, leading to a permanent position with greater responsibilities. “I am very grateful that I have had the opportunity to improve my English, develop skills and gain qualifications that, without doubt, have improved my life chances,” she says.
Since leaving the armed forces, bus driver Gary has worked hard to gain a raft of qualifications, enriching colleagues’ lives in the process.
After an average education and failing maths at school, he managed to pass the National Test for Adult Numeracy at level 2. He also completed NVQ level 2 in Road Passenger Transport and an NVQ level 3 in Direct Training and Development with the support of the European Social Fund. As a Union Learning Rep he now runs learning centres in the FirstBus Leeds depots.
He graduated from the University of Huddersfield with a Certificate in Education and is currently taking a BA (Hons) in Education and Training via Leeds City College. He also trained in First Aid and is now the company’s qualified instructor.
Gary uses his skills as a Community Responder Volunteer with the Yorkshire Ambulance Service. He is also training as an NVQ A1 Assessor. “Thanks to my own personal journey and development, I am better able to support my learners both formally and informally. I believe that lifelong learning is learning for life” he says.
Shirley has battled with many difficult challenges in her life, including bereavement and depression. She suffers from dyslexia, had very negative experiences at school and has been unemployed for many years.
Last year, part-funded by the European Social Fund, she completed Project Link’s 20-hour Natural World Course, which gives an introduction to conservation and employability skills. She then progressed onto a more challenging 30-hour course, Creating a Wetland Management Plan, which involved surveying a remote wetland site and producing a management plan for its owner. She also completed a one-day course, The Birds, the Bees and Pondlife, and a further course which helped her seek employment and volunteering opportunities.
As well as gaining a range of new skills and boosting her confidence, Shirley now has a job and continues to take on learning opportunities. She has also become a busy member of her local community. “I now know I can do things that I didn’t think I could do before,” she says. “I’m now volunteering as well, which feels like heaven.”
Single mother Sarah is profoundly deaf and had been unemployed for over 18 years. She had lost confidence and found it difficult to do even simple tasks without support.
After approaching Maximus Employment and Training, she was encouraged to think about voluntary work. They helped her find a voluntary role at Bournemouth Hospital working alongside the ward clerk. Sarah’s confidence grew as her hard work was appreciated. Given regular practice with lip reading and speech, she found she could communicate very well with patients and staff. Her learning was part-funded by the European Social Fund.
Confident enough to start applying for jobs, she gained temporary work with Marks & Spencer, and now has a permanent job there. Dealing with customers and staff increasingly helps her to overcome communication barriers. As well as working part-time, Sarah still volunteers at the hospital. “Getting to where I am today has been a bit of a journey as I’d lost confidence and didn’t think I’d ever be able to do anything,” she says. “But with encouragement I’ve come through.”
Tegan has been homeless for three years, ‘sofa surfing’ at friends’ houses and for several months sleeping rough on a park bench. For the past 18 months she has lived at The Quays homelessness hostel.
Having done badly at school, she had no self-confidence and no idea how to get her life back on track and get a job. But through a partnership between the hostel and Canterbury College, she was able to take a series of courses and qualifications.
Through participating in a project part-funded by the European Social Fund, Tegan completed courses and qualifications in Literacy and Numeracy (both OCR levels 1 and 2), Basic IT, CV Writing, Word Processing (EDCL level 2), Spreadsheets and Employability Skills. She is now considering taking an apprenticeship in Business Administration. More confident and focused, she is actively seeking work and she encourages other residents to attend courses.
“These courses have changed my life,” she says. “I didn’t have the right attitude towards myself and life before I took them.”
When Mathlian referred by the jobcentre to an ESF-funded project run by Working Links, her confidence, motivation and self-esteem were very low. She had been in care as a child and at school she struggled with reading and writing, and believed she was ‘thick’, leaving with no qualifications. She was partially deaf, but only at 21 was she diagnosed with glue ear.
Mathlian returned to education in her 20s to take GCSEs but didn’t complete them. After her children were born, she realised she needed to support their learning. At Working Links, she completed an employability course in CV writing, job preparation and interview skills. She took a care course, gaining her first ever qualifications, including Health and Safety, First Aid, Manual Handling, and Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults.
Through Working Links Mathlian gained her first-ever qualifications and has since secured a full-time job as a nursing home support worker. She hopes to continue learning and complete NVQ level 3 in Health and Social Care. “I can’t thank Working Links enough,” she says. “They have given me the confidence to believe that I can achieve.”
Robert has overcome the barriers of a learning disability, epilepsy and limited literacy and numeracy skills to gain qualifications and a job. Passionate about gardening since he was a child, he taught himself the skills through TV and picture books, but attempts to get gardening work were frustrated as most jobs required NVQs or the ability to drive.
After losing a job as a kitchen porter, Robert was referred to The Camden Society, which, through an ESF-funded project, found him a training placement at Walworth Garden Farm. There he was supported with his portfolio, and he learnt the names of plants by cutting out photos and bringing them into work.
Robert gained NVQ levels 1 and 2 in Horticulture, and a NOCN in Customer Service, plus qualifications in First Aid, Health and Safety, and Food Safety. He now works part-time and is determined this will lead to a full-time gardening job. “My confidence has grown and I feel I have a real opportunity to achieve my goals,” he says.
Changing careers can be daunting at any age but Ruby got an MA, set up a company and became its chief executive at 78 – and all to help others.
She had retired as Assistant Director of Social Services in 1996 and, after a lifetime working with children and families, began volunteering. Ruby joined and often chaired various groups supporting service users and carers in the north-east, for which she was awarded an MBE.
Then, when one voluntary group was threatened with funding cuts, she took action. “To become financially viable,” she says, “my learning project was how to set up a Community Interest Company.” Working with law students and a business tutor at the Northumbria University, she helped create the company called North East Social Care Advisors CIC.
Angela Brown, chief executive of Training in Childcare Ltd, says Ruby’s commitment to learn in order to help others is remarkable. “This is not only a fantastic example of role modelling for those who have retired, but also sends out a strong message to volunteers to undertake learning.”
John knew nothing about computers until very recently. But at the spritely age of 91, he drives himself every week to attend his adult learning class and has progressed rapidly from not even knowing how to plug his laptop in to using digital photography.
“John is an inspiration in the learning group of over-60s participants: a living, breathing example of someone committed to learning, and not letting age or knowledge be a barrier to ‘Getting Digital’,” says Iona Gibbons, Community Learning Development Worker with Bath and North East Somerset County Council.
For John, the benefits of lifelong learning are clear. “I want to remain active in myself for my own health but also access all the information that is on computers, to benefit from community opportunities and to meet other people who are in the same boat as me. I see my computer learning as now firmly part of my life and can share what I learn with my family and show them what I can do.”