When age is just a number

14th May 2010 at 01:00
Adult Learners' Week, the annual UK-wide festival of learning, begins in Scotland tomorrow and will culminate in a national celebration of learning on May 20. Sixteen groups and individuals will be up for the adult learning `Oscars' that evening and here are their stories

Gorebridge Creative Writers

A writing class, it started with a couple of parents who met at one of the community rooms at Gorebridge Primary in Midlothian. They produced pieces of writing for inclusion in Days like These, a book produced by Midlothian Adult Literacy and Numeracy Initiative (MALANI) in October 2008. The age range of the class varies from 20 to pensioners, many of them facing health and disability problems.

Upper Nithsdale Men and Their Kids

A lifelong learning scheme for men who had children at Sanquhar and Kelloholm primaries, it began in 2005 based on research findings showing that when men are involved in lifelong learning, their families benefit disproportionately. This attracted around 100 families, regarded as "a huge engagement" for a rural area suffering from multiple deprivation. In 2008, after some of the original primary pupils had graduated to Sanquhar Academy, several of the dads asked for support in starting a Men amp; Kids Group there. The whole project regularly involves between 30 and 40 families.

Springburn Writers

They evolved from a group of carers in north Glasgow who, with help from a theatre specialist, created a drama for Carers' Week last June. With a creative writing tutor to shape the script, the result was a play, Carers are Forever, which toured community facilities in the north of the city. The group has now moved on, taking part in the Aye Write! book festival in the city and becoming involved in a project with Glasgow Museums to curate an exhibition in Springburn on the theme of "metamorphosis".

The Garnock Valley Diggers

From its beginnings in 2007 to create allotment gardens, this group eventually developed community gardens where people passed on skills as well as the time of day. The group raised more than 24,000 last year to develop 80 plots and a sensory respite garden. In the last year, members have taken part in a range of courses which have included fund-raising, beginners' computing, emergency first aid, volunteering legalities and charity regulations.

Menolej Experience

The Menolej (Men of Leisure) group in Dundee was formed 19 years ago by retired men, many of whom are now in their eighties. They first came together to become involved in a meaningful programme of learning, health and social activities. Over the years, these have led them to undertake a variety of initiatives, including providing a holiday home for disadvantaged children, researching the history of Christianity in Dundee and sharing their local knowledge and experience with senior pupils, culminating in the production of a DVD.

Potty about Psychology Group

When funding problems got in the way of a criminal psychology course on serial killers and psychopaths, this all-female group of adult learners decided to raise the funds for a six-week counselling course. One of them has gone on to do a couple of Open University courses on psychology and social science.

Women Working Together

This group formed because they have all experienced many years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The aim was to help build their confidence and self-esteem and enable them to reconnect with their communities. Despite low self- esteem and depression, as well as coping with poverty and childcare, they have successfully participated in personal development programmes and chalked up many "phenomenal" milestones - including two of the women now attending Strathclyde University and another being able to use public transport after suffering from agoraphobia for more than 20 years.

Chance 4 Change Befriender Mentors

A Borders-based group which supports vulnerable young people, they have volunteered because they have suffered from personal setbacks which make them feel they have experience and empathy to share. They receive in-depth training, dealing with areas such as confidentiality, boundaries, attitudes, communi- cation and relationships, so they can spend time with youngsters at risk.

NSF (Scotland) Life Skills Project Digital Photography (Stewartry) Group

During its four years, the NSF (Scotland)'s Life Skills Project group has successfully run eight digital photography groups in Dumfries, with learning outcomes ranging from calendars to an assessment pack for community occupational therapists. They have staged exhibitions, produced photographs for the National Trust for Scotland and moved on to using more sophisticated software - despite having to grapple with "severe and enduring" mental health problems.

Tom Dailly

Tom, 46, has not let his own in- firmities (born with spina bifida, he is paralysed down his left side and is unable to read and write) get in the way of supporting learning for others in Larkhall.

Elizabeth Roden

Betty, at the the age of 77, found her handwriting was becoming illegible due to her deteriorating eyesight, which was affecting all aspects of her life. With the use of ICT, she has now learned Deafblind Manual Alphabet, which is a tactile communication method, and visits schools to teach pupils the deafblind alphabet.

Terry Reilly

Terry, who is 21, kicked off his learning journey when he was in Polmont Young Offenders Institution. Courses to help him on his release, such as personal effectiveness, first aid and food hygiene, have helped him become more resilient in coping with knock-backs from employers.

Susan Robertson

With her first child preparing to go to university and pregnant with her second, Susan decided it would be good for them to have a bilingual education through the medium of Gaelic, although neither she nor her partner spoke the language - and she is not even Scottish. She is now a tutor in the language.

Sonny Ogg

Sonny returned to learning late in life after taking the opportunity to brush up on his basic literacy. After joining a local literacy group in Aberdeen, he started working on his spelling and grammar, which developed into a flair for poetry and creative writing, especially in Doric. He has since run a workshop in creative writing and contributed to books of short stories and poems.

Lorna Peddie

Lorna, a 34-year-old mother of two, had been involved in drug misuse while at school but started to turn her life around after studying social care at Borders College, where she gained an HNC. She has a job with Addiction Borders which supports people who have alcohol problems.

Margaret Elizabeth Kemp

Magi took up a BTEC art and design course in September 2008 after being made redundant. Her confidence was at a low ebb and she credits the course with boosting her self-esteem and rekindling her faith in her own creative abilities.

Next week: how good is our adult learning?

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