WEA in Leicestershire

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Leicestershire Reports

Leicestershire report for Regional AGM 2013
A brief summary of the work in the county for 2012-13, prepared with input from Jan Ball, Vicki Jones, Helen Salisbury and Mike Wilson, as presented by County Representative Mandy Grocott to the Regional AGM on 16th November 2013.

Perhaps the most significant event in the last academic year happened at the very end of it; I refer to the change of venue that Leicester Branch were obliged to seek, following the university’s decision to close Vaughan College. Vaughan had been Leicester’s base since the 1960’s, and it has been a challenging task to find an easily accessible suitable replacement. Fortunately Leicester College has provided the necessary space, and a warm welcome. Jan Ball reports that students have continued to support the classes both there, and in other new venues such as the Unitarian Chapel, Belgrave Hall and Newark House Museum.

Earlier in the year partnerships were developed with HMP Gartree, delivering yoga classes, and at Leicestershire Recovery College, with a Word Power course; it is hoped that the range of courses can be extended in future. The branch is also looking to build on and develop partnerships with Leicester City Council’s Museum Services. The branch programme has continued to offer a wide range of courses, including a new Contemporary Dance for Mature Movers, which is proving very successful.

In the county branches, Mike Wilson reports that provision grew by 21% last year. This was achieved by offering more courses in more venues, whilst – it is hoped – consolidating and not diluting the existing provision. New ideas were tried out in several locations, the most promising developments being in Kegworth where the Adult Learning Service has recently withdrawn, leaving a demand which WEA can meet.

As usual the largest branch provision was in Loughborough, and the Birstall and Rothley Branch also continues to flourish. With the help of funding from the Regional Development Fund, they ran a very successful Elgar Day in March, which attracted 50 people, many of whom were new to the WEA.

In other towns and villages we continue to run courses, though at present this is often just one course per term, but some new students have been gained.

By far the biggest growth-area for the region, however, is Targeted Disability provision. In the past year we provided 440 hours of courses in Art and Crafts, Music and Drama for groups of adults with learning disabilities, and we hope to broaden the provision with more partners.

From the 101 Hinckley Road centre in Leicester, Helen Salisbury reports that Ann Walker, WEA Director of Education, visited on 26 September this year to open officially the refurbished lower ground floor, now an IT room with disabled lift, so after 16 years, there will be no more IT classes at the Shaftsbury Road Annexe. Ann’s visit was a great opportunity, too, to say goodbye to retiring tutor Hilary Broadbent, acknowledge 25 years’ delivery of Yoga for Pregnancy and Childbirth and to celebrate some student success stories. Incidentally it is easy to follow the successes of the students by subscribing to 101’s excellent blog (I urge everyone to take a look!).

The Branch course offer was complemented by a growing targeted programme in the City. Asian dressmaking provision at the Shama Women’s Centre was extended in January to a fourth, weekly sewing course, soft furnishing skills. WEA’s flexibility in how courses are offered enabled additional subjects to be planned for September 2013.

101 works with several other community partners, to provide quality provision despite difficulties from funding cuts and changing regulations. Topics include textiles, ceramics, music, drama, exploring nature and reminiscences for those with dementia.

Vicki Jones reports that there is a range of English, Maths and ESOL provision in Leicestershire, concentrated in the city of Leicester. Many of these courses are delivered through 101 Hinckley Road, and also at the Recovery College at Glenfield (already mentioned) and at several other centres.

Students may initially be illiterate and uneducated, or have qualifications up to GCSE equivalent. Most students work towards accreditation through City and Guilds. Often the qualifications they receive can aid them in gaining employment, improving their current employment prospects, enrolling on an FE course, etc. and the students report many benefits in their personal lives.

You can read some Success Stories on the EME blog which can be accessed via a link on the Regional website.

The County Forum met in October last year, at the Jewry Wall Museum in Leicester. We had a musical start from Carolyn Necklin’s “I’m Gonna Sing” group, followed by a question and answer session with Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, which generated a lot of interest. After lunch the museum’s Guy Raynor gave a talk about Roman Leicester (some of which could be seen just outside the window!)

In May, at Quest House in Loughborough, David Benjamin of Leicester University gave us a fascinating talk about Hereward the Wake (a few illusions shattered there!) Then WEA geology tutor Gerry Shaw conducted us around the town examining “The rocks that made Loughborough” when we were fascinated by the wide variety of local and imported stone Gerry pointed out to us.

Leicestershire report for the year 2011-12 up to 31st July

We have three new blogs on line in the county, to add to the existing websites of the 101 Hinkley Road Centre and Birstall and Rothley Branch. These are managed by the Leicester and Loughborough branches, and there is also a Leicestershire blog, to give information and news about forums, special events and county WEA news generally. Members from Loughborough and some 101 staff attended a WEA “Blogging for volunteers” course run by Alan Carter-Davies and Lindsey Tasker in the spring. Loughborough members manage their branch blog and the county blog. The 101 team have been honing their skills to create a replacement for their existing site, and this will go live soon. Links to branch sites can be found on the WEAeastmidlands blog “branches” page and the Leicestershire site through the “useful links” section.

In 2011-12 the county had only one forum, in Loughborough in May. Those who attended thoroughly enjoyed the day, though numbers were rather low at 17. Loughborough branch is now based in some of the refurbished offices of the old magistrate’s court and we used the imposing no 1 courtroom for a talk on the Magistrates Service by local magistrate Ros Marsh; a quiz demonstrated the depth of our ignorance! After lunch Nick Marshall gave an excellent presentation on the real life below stairs of a Victorian servant.

Cherry Heinrich reports that the Leicester branch successfully re-launched a singing course ‘I’m gonna sing’ with new tutor Carolyn Necklen. Carolyn believes in the power of group singing to benefit the students’ health and mental wellbeing. A concert is given at the end of each term, and the looks on the faces of the class as they perform to an audience, demonstrate that she is absolutely right – and they sound great too, as those attending the most recent county forum this term can testify.

Wildlife courses in the daytime are proving steadily more popular and so it was decided to try an evening course at Vaughan as well. “Bats in the city” ran in the summer term, and that success has led to a course on Owls through 2012-13.

Marin Bloxsom has retired this year, having taught many courses over the years around the region. He finished by teaching a course on ‘The London Midland Scottish Railway 1923-1947’ for a group at Vaughan College. His in-depth knowledge, especially of railways, will be missed by his many students.

Two new tutors are also actively involved in research in their respective fields. Denis Sami taught two very popular courses, on Sicily and Venice, but commitments on archaeological digs in Pakistan have prevented him from continuing this year. Carys Bennett left the region for a geology research post in France, but has now returned and is once more able to teach for the branch. The branch is very lucky to be able to benefit from the expertise of such tutors.

A room hearing loop has been purchased at Vaughan College It was initially acquired through the additional learning support fund to enable a hard of hearing student to participate fully in a Literature course, but other students have benefitted too.

At 101 Hinkley Road, Helen Salisbury reports that the refurbishments have now been completed. All of the teaching rooms are now redecorated, and the ICT area has been made into one large teaching room so the space works better.

The Asian dressmaking course at the Shama Women’s Centre, a community partner, was successfully nominated for the learner of the year award, and a second nomination was put forward for the Arts and Crafts groups at the Nia Centre, where 101 works with the Leicester City Council Community Opportunities Team. The targeted programme also grew over the past year, offering arts and crafts, music, ICT and drama. The 101 team have been working with other partners including MENCAP, South Leicester Community Opportunities, and, more recently, Deacon and Hardy.

Two long serving members of the 101 admin team have retired, Alyson Hockney and Dianne Morris. We wish them well and send best wishes to Di who is completing a course of therapy for cancer.

Outside the city, the largest branch, Loughborough continues to thrive in its new town centre location, offering a wide range of courses, with a total of 35 courses running during the year. In addition, intensive short courses were offered at the end of the summer term, and four of these ran. They provide an excellent opportunity to try something new and I certainly enjoyed my 2 day introduction to collograph printing. New tutor organiser Mike Wilson rapidly became familiar with all the areas of Loughborough in his search for promising new venues, and this has resulted in several classes moving to new homes. In the summer Loughborough volunteers ran a stall on the market, to raise both funds, and awareness of what WEA can offer.

The efforts of volunteers in other branches are also vital in keeping courses running. Birstall and Rothley have had a very successful year with all 10 of the offered classes running, some of them with very high numbers. Ashby and Coalville, Husbands Bosworth and Rearsby Branches have also been successful in running the courses offered, and this owes a great deal to the hard work of the local committees.

Courses have also been running in other centres, of which Melton Mobray offers – and has run – the most courses. Groby, Market Harborough, and Hinkley are other centres where courses have been running.

Report compiled by Mandy Grocott, Leicestershire county representative on the Regional Committee.

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