“The WEA is an inclusive organisation and I want our courses to reach as many vulnerable adults as possible.”
This is the message from Anne Hollis, a volunteer on our Chichester Branch who helped develop the Chichester ‘Reaching Out’ programme - courses with the aim to meet the specific requirements of adults with disabilities or other special educational needs, supporting them to work together at a pace which suits the individual.
The Reaching Out programme was started by the Chichester Branch in September 2005. Branch courses are typically pitched at Level 3. Chichester Branch recognised that this excluded a lot of potential students, and forged links with a local day centre for adults with learning disabilities. Branch volunteers raised the money to provide two initial courses - yoga and oral history - at no cost to the day centre or the students themselves. This innovative, inclusive approach sets a great example to other branches.
Reaching Out courses may also appeal to people who would be very apprehensive about enrolling on more traditional adult education classes for a range of reasons. The first two courses were so successful that the WEA incorporated them in their main funded programme for the next academic year. This gave the volunteers the confidence to expand the provision to other vulnerable adults. Like all WEA branch provision, the programme was decided upon by the students themselves, via a survey to determine what classes they would like to participate in. To do this, the Branch again showed initiative by partnering with Age Concern (now Age UK), West Sussex Association for the Disabled, and the local branch of MENCAP to reach the widest audience possible. Respondents were mostly people with a learning disability and older adults with extra support needs. Tutors were found to provide seated yoga, poetry and stories, art and tai chi. These were based in the residential homes of the respondents, community venues and day centres. The art classes were based in Pallant House Gallery in Chichester and they were very supportive of the work that the Branch was doing to provide inclusive courses, and eventually took over providing the course themselves so funds could be released to start another WEA class elsewhere.
The Branch now run around 25 classes under the Reaching Out Programme and they attract more than 150 students per year. Some students need an individual support in order to take part in the class, and this person is encouraged to take part so that they are working together.
The courses are an opportunity for those leading often quite sheltered lives to make new friends and form very rewarding relationships with WEA tutors and other students.
Reaching Out Case Study: Drama Towards Independence
This drama group with the Reaching Out Programme is a great example of the work the WEA is doing in community settings; the students have a range of moderate to severe learning difficulties and physical disabilities. The course has been really effective in helping the students to develop independence, gain confidence and self-esteem to help in living their daily lives.
Many of the students began the course reluctant to join in with the activities, often sitting by the wall, or with their carers. The tutor coaxed them into joining the group in warm up exercises, improvisations and acting out scenarios from daily life. After just a few sessions all members of the group joined in with rehearsals for a group pantomime.
One young man for example, who suffers from autism, hardly speaks, and was unable to learn any lines, joined in and played two parts: a mouse who transforms into a horse, and a guest at the ball, where he danced enthusiastically with another student.
It was a daunting task performing in front of a large audience, and although before the performance there were some nerves, everyone played their parts to the best of their abilities and everyone was smiling and enjoyed the applause at the end of the performance. Well done to all involved!