I have been involved with the WEA since the 1970s, after discovering the organisation through my first job at a local factory. WEA courses taught me a range of transferable skills that improved my ability to perform in the workplace and act as a representative on behalf of my co-workers. This was very useful in my role as a shop steward. Education within the workplace became a lifeline for the working class, enabling workers to effectively fight back against injustice.
In my late twenties through the support of the Trade Union Movement, I successfully applied to Ruskin College, Oxford. I never really understood the importance of education at school. I found the subjects and teaching methods completely off putting. But after my experiences with the WEA, I was inspired to expand my knowledge in areas that interested me. I have been a WEA student for over 40 years, and witnessed its progression as a charity. The organisation has developed from a radical advocate for working class education, to an institution dedicated to providing diverse adult education.
The WEA does more than provide education, it shapes communities, builds confidence and creates lasting social groups. I am currently enrolled on a WEA politics course, where I have witnessed a significant growth in political awareness by the students on the course – from contributing very little, to becoming key members of the class. The teacher Malcolm is fantastic; he is very welcoming and the teaching style is very inclusive. We discuss real issues with a politically diverse group, which broadens the mind and fuels my desire to continue learning.
I have recently become a member of the WEA, so now I support staff and generate ideas for learning opportunities. The structure of the WEA allows both students and members to contribute ideas and shape the organisation from the ground up. I am currently involved in developing the South Tyneside syllabus for the summer term with Susan Heptinstall, our fantastic course organiser.