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WEA in Nottingham - Action Learning for Living

Welcome to the Adult Education Mental Health Research project page for Action Learning for Living (ALL) 

The Workers' Educational Association (WEA) in Nottingham has been part of the project since April 2015 leading two pilots: True Colours and Action Learning for Living (ALL).  We are working with DfE in the academic year 2016-17, using the ALL project model, to contribute research data to inform the final report.  If you want to find out more about the project or our work with people who experience a mild to moderate mental health condition please contact Alan Carter-Davies on 01159 628410 or acarterdavies@wea.org.uk

Project context

Nottingham City is one of the ten most deprived districts in the country and it has high levels of the risk factors that promote poor mental health.  These include significantly worse percentages than the average for England for unemployment and people who live with a limiting long term illness. There are also high percentages of children living in poverty, children in care, family homelessness and 16-18 year old first admissions to the youth justice system which are all wider determinates of a future risk of mental ill-health. 

WEA nationally identifies Health and Wellbeing as a potential outcome of adult learning and has a long-standing commitment to developing courses which help promote positive mental health.   The project delivered a webinar which shared some of this work with colleagues in October 2016.  A recent Health and Wellbeing Prospectus and slides from our presentation can be downloaded below.

Learning from Phase 1 delivery

We've collated some notes about Phase 1 delivery into a padlet presentation (see below).  There are also some case studies from this pilot stage on our website.

Phase 2 delivery 

We recruit people to the project via existing partners or outreach work.  We have contacted a wide range of local agencies which include: doctor’s surgeries, housing associations, drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, community venues/centres, libraries, creative art centres and clubs.  We have also circulated information to WEA volunteers and WEA branches in the city.  Our Information and Advice workers attend events held by community organisations such as the Women’s Centre, the Nottingham Writer’s Studio and local job/employment fairs.  

  • We have found it challenging: to find the most appropriate contact to target information sharing within an organisation; to get people’s sustained attention and a response without persistence over a period of time; to get the marketing offer ‘right’ and, because we work only in rented outreach centres, to find the right ‘base’ and contact details to encourage people to come for interview as the next step in the process.  We have not been able to recruit many people to each course.  Even when we create a longer lead in between an IA session and the course starting it is not always possible to recruit as many students as we would like to see to create a great community learning environment.   

A textile Christmas wreath and other craft materials on a bench with a box of biscuits and coffee mugs

Once a potential student expresses an interest he/she attends an Information and Advice (IA) session which is booked via the telephone, electronically or in person if they meet us when we are out and about.  Information from the IA discussion is captured and stored electronically.  

  • We have learned how helpful it can be to discuss with students the how and why of learning and what to expect when you begin to learn using a formal model (Thinking, Getting, Keeping) but using an informal 1-1 approach.  We have identified IA workers develop their skills best by practising on ‘real life’ scenarios.  They need access to peer de-briefing and to regularly share ways of working because the quality of their practice increases incrementally over time.  We found we needed a longer lead in time to set up portable electronic devices to collect  IA information and needed to offer additional support for staff so they could use the equipment confidently.  Even with mifi some connectivity is still poor in outreach venues but, overall, the speed with which information can be processed and reviewed more than makes up for these minor issues.

We deliver a range of creative arts courses for the ALL project. 

  • We have found it challenging  to have the right programme offer.  We have no delivery base so we have to book a venue and tutor for each course on the programme offer.  As recruitment has been slow we have had to cancel at least six planned courses and it is often hard to re-book and deliver an alternative course using a quality venue and a tutor who has relevant training and experience.  We review the offer regularly to try and overcome this. 

Other key learning points are related to staffing.  As project staff work different days and have part-time hours we have found it helpful to have a short online weekly Zoom meeting to update the action log and review progress.  We have found it essential to have clearly defined roles and areas of responsibility and to store all documents electronically in a shared drive.  This both helps prevent duplication of effort and ensures we are all using the right version of a document.

More information about Phase 2 is available from our website link below including tutor and IA briefings; student feedback on what an IA session is like and Alan's blog about project activities.

What's next?

We have learned a great deal from this project about how to work more effectively with people who declare a mild or moderate mental health condition.  This especially relates to the impact of having a dedicated Information and Advice worker available to support a student before and during enrolment in learning.   Our reflections related to this aspect of the project are summarised in a short report and two anonymised case studies of research volunteers available to download below: one case study focuses on supporting an individual to join a course; the other identifies how an individual persists in learning.

WEA in the East Midlands is sharing the findings of its work with the wider WEA which continues to prioritise addressing health inequalities through community learning.   We are keen to develop more local partnerships that focus on learning linked to health literacy and health self-management strategies alongside existing work targeted at vulnerable adults in the county and city of Nottingham.  For an update on our current work or to discuss working in partnership in Nottingham please contact Alan Carter-Davies.