From education to employment

Inspiring #FestivalofLearning2019 award winners show the power of learning to transform lives

Learning and Work Institute has announced its Festival of Learning award winners for 2019.

The 12 winners, revealed at a prestigious awards ceremony in central London, include inspiring individual stories, as well as outstanding tutors, employers, programmes and institutions.

Festival of Learning – a national celebration of lifelong learning – has been running for nearly 30 years. All of this year’s winners show the power of learning to transform and enrich people’s lives.

The winners are:

Michael Shakil, a care-leaver from London, who overcame a difficult childhood to go to university and pursue his dream of becoming a furniture designer, has been selected by HRH The Princess Royal to receive the Patron’s Award.

City Lit, a pioneering adult education institute, has been awarded the President’s Award. Opening in 1919, City Lit taught sign language to returning soldiers who had been deafened by shell fire. A beacon for lifelong learning for the last century, City Lit has helped more than 1 million Londoners develop their skills and pursue their passions.

Diana Omokore, an inspirational young woman from Leicester has been awarded the Outstanding Individual Award. Taken into care as a teenager, Diana grew a passion for helping other young people. After overcoming adversity, she is studying paediatric surgery and volunteering to support vulnerable children.

Marie Smith, from Wolverhampton, overcame severe depression and transformed her life after returning to education. She has been awarded the Learning for Health Award after going from being trapped at home to returning to work and studying for a degree.

Keoghs LLP, a Bolton-based law firm, with an outstanding commitment to investing in both its staff and community, has been recognised with the Employer Award. Keoghs offers more than 30 apprenticeships a year and has supported 100 unemployed people access work.

Fiona Pickett, from London, has won the Tutor Award. After losing her hearing, Fiona thought she would never teach again. But she has gone on to become a lipreading tutor, including training 70 lipreading tutors, and transformed the lives of hundreds of people facing similar challenges.

Emma Searle, from Devon, received the Learning for Work Award. After seeing paramedics attend a family emergency, Emma was inspired to go back to college and study to be a paramedic so that she could help others too.

Vicky Seagars, from Sittingbourne in Kent, overcame severe anxiety by taking part in family learning at her children’s school. She has won the New Directions Award after going on to university to study midwifery and inspiring family members to start learning again.

Seong Ngoh Chua, from Wolverhampton, who learnt very little English growing up in Malaysia, attended ESOL classes to help her feelings of isolation and empower her children, has won the English Language Learning Award. She is now supporting others to do the same.

Nurturing Recovery, a Somerset-based horticultural project, run in partnership with Bridgwater & Taunton College and North Somerset Council, which helps people recovering from addictions and mental ill health enhance their skills and confidence has received the Project Award.

Stuart Ferris, a community centre caretaker from Oldham, has won the Return to Learning Award. His undiagnosed dyslexia led to Stuart having difficulties with his literacy skills at school, but he returned to education in his 50s to improve his literacy and find work.

Dr Peter Shukie, from Blackburn, has been awarded the Social Impact Award after creating an innovative online platform to support people accessing community learning.

Stephen Evans Dec 2018 100x100Learning and Work Institute, a policy, research and development organisation dedicated to lifelong learning, employment and inclusion organise Festival of Learning each year. Chief executive, Stephen Evans said:

“Adult learning has never been more important. Learning can help people into work or climb the career ladder. It can help you make new friends or be active in your community. Learning ca improve health and wellbeing. However, the number of adults in learning has fallen over the last decade and our research shows stark and persistent inequalities, with some groups far less likely to participate.

“Our award winners show just how powerful learning can be and the difference that great tutors and learning providers can make. I hope their stories both help to inspire others to go into learning, and help to persuade policymakers of the need for a renewed commitment to – and investment in – lifelong learning.”

Anne milton100x100Festival of Learning is supported each year by the Department for Education. Anne Milton, minister of state for skills and apprenticeships, said:

“I’m thrilled to see the Festival of Learning Awards recognise and celebrate the achievements of people who are taking the opportunity to change their lives through learning new skills and knowledge. 

“We want everyone to have the skills they need for life and work and Learning and Work Institute is doing some amazing work. It’s so important that we recognise the achievements of those that follow this path and make sure they get the recognition they wholeheartedly deserve. I congratulate all of the twelve winners and I look forward to hearing more about the progress they make.”

Diana Omokore

Diana Omokore’s story is an inspiring example of how learning can provide opportunity for young people. Diana had a difficult childhood and was taken into care during her teens. Her experience motivated her to be the best that she could be, and she confounded the odds to achieve outstanding exam results and secure a place to study medicine at university. Driven by a passion to help other young people, Diana hopes to go on to be a paediatric surgeon, and she finds time between her studies to volunteer for a children’s charity.

Seong Ngoh Chua

We celebrated the stories of adults who had returned to learning mid-way through their lives. Having limited English, Seong Ngoh Chua felt isolated and unable to help with her daughters’ education. Seong found the courage to enrol on an ESOL course, and this decision has helped transform her life. She is now studying English and maths, volunteering at Adult Education Wolverhampton, and encouraging others to embrace education too.

Vicky Seagars

Vicky Seagars’ story is equally inspiring. She was a stay-at-home mum whose severe anxiety made it difficult for her to leave the house. With the support of the family liaison officer from her child’s school, she enrolled in family learning at Kent Adult Education. Since then, she hasn’t looked back, and she has gone on to secure a place at university to study midwifery.

Stuart Ferris

We also heard from those whose lives have been enriched by learning later in life. Undiagnosed dyslexia had held Stuart Ferris back at school, and he struggled with his literacy. He returned to education aged 50, improving his reading and writing skills and taking the next steps in his career.

Sylvia Rowbottom

Sylvia Rowbottom’s story shows it is never too late to learn. Leaving school at age 16 during the Second World War, Sylvia pledged that whenever she got the chance, she would go back to education. After bringing up her children and a long career, the first thing Sylvia did on retiring was sign up to the Open University. Sylvia went on to graduate with a first class degree in humanities, and she is still learning today at age 91; getting public transport every week to her poetry class.

In addition to celebrating the outstanding achievements and inspiring stories of individuals, Festival of Learning also recognises the tutors and institutions that do so much to open up access to learning, thereby changing people’s lives.

Fiona Pickett

When Fiona Pickett lost her hearing, she thought that she would never teach again. Taking lip-reading classes rekindled her passion for learning and her love of teaching. Fiona went on to study to become an advanced lip-reading tutor. She has now trained more than 70 lipreading tutors, and in doing so, helped transform hundreds of lives.

In their 100th year, City Lit was recognised with the President’s Award. Opening in 1919, one of the first courses taught was sign language to soldiers returning from the First World War, whose hearing had been shattered by shellfire in the trenches of the western front. Over the last century, this pioneering adult education institute has helped more than 1 million Londoners develop their skills and pursue their passions.

Our Employer Award this year went to Keoghs LLC. Whilst too many businesses do not invest enough in skills, Keoghs has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to investing both in their workers and their community. Keoghs offers more than 30 apprenticeships a year, and they give their operational staff the opportunity to take professional law qualifications. Their sector-based work academy has opened up pathways into the profession to disadvantaged young people who may never have considered a career in law.

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