“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.