Lisa's learning journey started several years ago with the WEA in Oxford. A full-time mum since she was 16, Lisa had not even considered further education until she met WEA Development Worker Emma Carney one morning at her children's school.
"Emma asked if anyone was interested in doing a free Level 1 course which could help them get back into work. My self-esteem and confidence was pretty low - brain dead would be a good way to describe how I felt! – so the course sounded like a great idea. A few of us signed up and went shopping for new folders and pens; we felt like kids going back to school, excited at the thought of re-entering the learning environment."
"I was quite nervous on the first day, but Emma did a great job of immediately making us feel welcome and comfortable. This was crucial, as it made the experience much less stressful. The course itself was really beneficial and informative; it enabled me to realise that I did have goals and a purpose in life other than being a mum, and that helping others was really important in whatever path I chose."
With an interest in social care, Lisa's first project focused on Home-Start – a charity whose volunteers support struggling families with a child under five. Impressed by the work of the charity, Lisa signed up as a volunteer and began supporting a family herself. "This again was vital experience for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the WEA course and was genuinely sad when it finished, as it had been such a positive experience."
Lisa progressed to a Level 2 Helping in Schools course: "I thought this may be something I would like to do career-wise, and the practical experience of a placement would also help boost my skills and confidence. I knew level 2 would possibly be more challenging, and although I did find some elements of it difficult, the WEA supported me through it. The constant praise and encouragement of my tutor and other WEA staff gave me the determination to get this qualification."
Hungry to learn more, Lisa started a Take Part course which encouraged participants to get involved with decision-making in their local community. Lisa and two other mums decided to set up a Parent-Teacher Association at Barton Primary School, and she eventually became a School Governor - a post which she has now held for 3 years. She and a friend went on to speak at the Take Part conference in London, as their community work was selected as an example of good practice for others. "This was a huge experience for me, and I felt very privileged to be asked to participate. Again, this WEA course was life-changing and empowering."
Lisa became a community champion with the Barton Learning Partnership, encouraging others to improve their skills through learning. "Being a mum was still my priority, but I did not want to stop learning! This led me to apply to Ruskin College to study a Social and Political Studies degree, which I completed this summer."
It was only when her local WEA group went to see the Pitman Painters play that Lisa realised how her knowledge had grown since she started learning: "When they mentioned Karl Marx, I was like, 'Wow, I know who he is!' – something I would never have known prior to studying at Ruskin. So much more of the world is accessible to me now."
"My learning journey has been a fantastic experience; I have become empowered, gained confidence and above all developed a lifelong love of learning. The WEA has helped me tremendously and is a truly valuable organisation. Its ability to reach out to people who may not otherwise have the opportunity or motivation to return to education is unique. It has inspired me to follow my passion, to help others and gain the knowledge and experience to be able to do so."