Adult Learners' Week is the "UK's largest festival and celebration of adult learning" says Niace, the adult education organisation. Up to 100,000 people will take part in free taster sessions in everything from hairdressing, computing or alternative therapies to bird watching or local history.
The week will be staged in venues such as colleges, libraries, museums and workplaces: events aim to attract adults back into learning, whether for social, cultural or employment reasons.
One of the highlights is the presentation of awards to individuals and families who have shown how learning has improved their lives, often overcoming severe barriers, such as disability or personal and family difficulties. Organisations that have devised creative projects to widen participation are also celebrated.
Winners of awards receive a certificate and an award ranging from pound;200 for individuals to pound;1,000 for groups to be spent on courses or learning materials. Awards are made by region, chosen from up to 1,700 nominations received each year.
Older people, men, the unemployed and those in social classes D and E are still the least likely to take up learning, so these groups are particularly targeted. Providers from the state and voluntary sectors go out into the community, to shopping centres, housing estates and community centres, to showcase what they have to offer.
Adult Learners' Week is co-ordinated regionally by Niace and core-funded by the Department forEducation and Skills, the European Social Fund and learndirect. It is also supported by broadcasts by BBC, ITV and Channel 4.
Details at www.niace.org.uk
DESI VEERAN (above)
Wanting to express her creativity, Desi Veeran swapped a job in the City for her own independent furniture-making business. But in 1997 she began to have problems with her eyes and, by 1998, she was registered blind as a degenerative disease of the retina left her with only limited peripheral vision.
Classes with Westminster adult education service enabled her to take up kiln-formed glass sculpture, which she has exhibited and sells from her new business based in Shoreditch. Relying on touch and memory, she produces heads of her friends, butterflies and geometric pieces based on memories of South Africa, where she grew up.
"She's been a real campaigner for encouraging people with difficulties to get into education," says her learning support tutor, Caroline Barkus.
Ms Veeran has worked with art classes at her daughter's nursery and has represented campaigning groups in meetings with MPs.
"I believe that adult learning not only changes lives but also enriches communities," she says . "It opens doors that may otherwise be closed. "
After losing his job and his marriage breaking up, David Love found himself in a hostel for the homeless. He had lost the confidence to go out and tackle life. "I'd stay in, wouldn't meet people," says Mr Love. "I couldn't wait for night time because I knew people wouldn't call."
Meanwhile, Kim Nairn, the Skills for Life co-ordinator at Great Yarmouth College, Norfolk, was looking to engage people in the community. Working with the hostel, she realised that the men needed practical skills that would help them when they moved into sheltered accommodation and had to do some of their own maintenance. The result was a short course of two days a week of combined construction and basic skills, helping to build the college's new horticultural centre.
"We really had a good time, everyone was really great," says Mr Love. "I can't praise them enough and what they've done for me. There's always someone there to help you and put you back on your feet."
And Ms Nairn managed to create a further short course for those who wanted to continue. European Social Fundmoney paid for a stay at Holt Hall, owned by Norfolk County Council and used as a holiday centre for disadvantaged children. Mr Love and his colleagues mended things, put up shelves and made bird tables.
"Once you're out of the system, getting back is the hardest thing," says Ms Nairn. Confidence building can be as important as the skills taught.
Being on the course put Mr Love back in contact with people again and built up a desire to work. "Last year got me out, to meet people, to communicate with people," he says. "If I've got to go somewhere and talk to someone, I will."
Then he was able to move on to employment. "I used to love getting up in the morning to go to work. I loved meeting people and doing my job. It's just lovely to have money in your pocket."
Although that first job was only temporary, he is determined to keep trying and has signed up with four employment agencies. "I just want to get back into work again. I didn't two years ago, but I just want to get there now," he says.
RAYMOND ELGOOD (left)
It's not true that elderly people aren't interested in computers: 37 people are on the waiting list for a word processing course at Raymond Elgood's Age Concern centre in Leicestershire.
In Mr Elgood's case, an introduction to Microsoft Word led onto PowerPoint, Publisher, e-mail and the internet. At 84, he is thinking of saving for a combined printer and scanner unit to get round the problem of scanners and printers that don't talk to each other.
As an electronics engineer, he had built computers "in the days when they weighed 20 tons and you had to take the roof off to get them in", he says, but had never operated one. Although he has been retired for more than 20 years, his professional experience may explain why he is willing to take the back off his computer, wiggle the plugs about and experiment with the peripherals.
He took on the production of the local Age Concern six-page newsletter, but his latest project is family history. His great aunt had collected family information going back to the sixteenth century, even travelling to Norway at the age of 90 to check on a piece of research.
But all the information is on separate pieces of paper and now Mr Elgood has found a computer program that can turn the data into a family tree - once he has completed the 500 to 600 entries. Family connections can be very complicated. "They did a lot of begatting in those days," he says, not to mention naming new babies after children who had died, so the complexity of the data means the job will take some time. But occupying time was his original motive for taking a computer course.
"I'd got a dreadful hole in my life when I lost my wife and I was mooning about. I had a go at computers because it filled a lot of time. But it opened things up for me. I used to do lecturing in mathematical subjects and I clicked back into this learning. It's as though you'd been in a room with the windows shut and then the windows open one by one and vistas open up," he says.
CARLA JANE YOUNG (far right)
Carla Jane Young likes a challenge. There are not many young women studying vehicle maintenance, but she, her mother and the men on the course have got used to it since she began in September.
Despite her mother's concerns about using heavy tools and her own early reluctance to get her hands dirty, she thinks other women could take up this career. "It is hard, she says, "but if they're up for a challenge they can do it. And some women do like a challenge."
Not that mending cars was her first plan. "I was going to do hair and beauty," she says, "but I just sat down and thought that everyone was doing that. But there's always going to be cars, so we'll need mechanics."
Her post-16 education hadn't gone quite to plan either. Ms Young had intended to go straight to college from school, but fell ill in her last school year. Now she has two children, but is determined to get on with her training.
Each day begins at six o'clock and despite the daily trips to and from the childminder's, she has never been late for her Level 2 City and Guilds course at the transport technology centre near Bristol. "I don't know how I manage it really," she says. "I just take each day as it comes." When she has completed her training and got some experience working in a garage, she hopes to go on to train as an MOT tester.
But her choice of career may not have been based only on an assessment of the skills market. Her father used to own his own garage, which is now run by her uncle.
"I lost my Dad. He died just before the course started. I'm going to make him proud - this is what he'd have done," says Ms Young.
PETER FEWELL (above)
Peter Fewell has 21 certificates in education. He writes poetry, plays the guitar, sings in a choir, has written and published a book of short stories and hopes to start a degree next year. Which is not bad for someone who spent his school years truanting and was, by his own admission, "a hard nut".
Mr Fewell's enthusiasm for education started in prison. He began with sheets and sheets of copying in an effort to improve his handwriting and progressed to adult literacy, social history and citizenship courses, in which he particularly enjoyed the arguing and debating. He took other courses and found that discussing books and music was exciting.
He clearly remembers being presented with his first certificate. "I was over the moon. I'd never had a certificate before. I was brought up in children's homes and went from school to school," he says. "I was more interested in bunking off. How can you be interested in school when you're being moved from place to place?"
Despite his willingness to learn, he says that it took a long time to get into education because of the shortage of places. So he has recently been speaking at conferences run by the Forum for Prison Education, aiming to increase opportunities for prisoners.
Mr Fewell is convinced of the power of education to change people's lives and open doors. "In prison, education gives guys a sense of purpose," he says. "Some really hard guys have gone to education, and later you find them sitting there discussing literature."
He has particular praise for the prison tutors. To him, they are a "forgotten army" of "unsung heroes" who can find positive talents in the prisoners. "The tutors see something in you and help you bring it out," he says.
Starting in 1997 with a painting and drawing class, Jillian Fry has completed a variety of courses, despite struggling with mental health difficulties. Now her confidence has increased so much that she has taken up a post as a community tutor and run successful workshops for older learners.
And this June she will be taking her introduction to teacher training as part of her training and development programme supplied by Totton College, Southampton.
Having learnt so much, she says, she wants others to learn too. Another ambition is to become an artist and sell her own work.
"It is rewarding when a student joins us from the community and progresses to tutoring. Jill has overcome significant barriers," says Sarah Rouse, Totton's outreach co-ordinator.