A tutor in the secure care sector and a mental health partnership between Liverpool Philharmonic and a local NHS trust are among the winners of this year’s Festival of Learning awards.
The annual awards, organised by Learning and Work Institute, select and celebrate inspiring stories from the world of adult education and lifelong learning. This year’s winners, a mixture of learners, tutors, employers and projects, were announced today at a ceremony at London’s City Lit.
Recipients also include FD Works, a Bristol-based financial services firm that won the employer award for its work connecting disadvantaged young people to work opportunities.
The winner of this year’s tutor award is Helen Sonnenfeld, who is part of a multi-disciplinary team with Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust working with learners with learning disabilities, mental health illnesses and personality disorders.
“What motivates me is being able to help people to achieve something that they didn’t think was possible,” Helen said.
The hallmark of the Festival of Learning Awards is the inspirational stories of the barriers learners have overcome to transform their lives.
Mica Coleman Jones is the winner of this year’s patron’s award, selected personally by L&W’s patron, HRH The Princess Royal.
Undiagnosed autism and an unstable home life left Mica with very few opportunities after school and college and was even temporarily homeless. Support from the Helena Kennedy Foundation helped to turn things around, and Mica is now studying for a masters so she can help others with special educational needs.
Shahida Aslam, director of operations at Helena Kennedy Foundation, said: “It has been a joy to see how far Mica has come since her first bursary in teacher training. I’m so proud to see her thrive while continuing to push herself. She hasn’t stopped raising her own ambitions, and it’s wonderful to see her helping to raise those of people around her too.”
Another learner celebrated at today’s ceremony was Joanne Matthews, who studies at Hillingdon Adult Community Learning in London, and is this year’s winner of the return to learning award.
A poor experience at school and a battle with mental health issues left Joanne with no qualifications and no confidence in her future prospects. Joanne describes the additional challenges of her gender transition and dyslexia as “debilitating” prior to her adult learning journey.
“Walking through the door of Hillingdon five years ago was one of the scariest things I have done, but my confidence has grown with the course I’m doing,” she said.
“If you told me five years ago that I would attend adult education classes and get qualifications, and be able to travel across London to volunteer to support those struggling in life, I wouldn’t believe you. Returning to learning has been transformative.”
And an unusual but innovative partnership between the Liverpool Philharmonic and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust is the winner of this year’s president’s award.
The partnership has created ‘the life rooms’ project which delivers a range of arts courses and experiences which improve participants’ mental health, self-esteem and wellbeing.
One learner said: “Being involved with the Liverpool Philharmonic’s courses over the past year has inspired me to become more creative and built up my confidence to speak to more people. I’m also much better at expressing myself. I would never have done this without the support of the Liverpool Philharmonic and would encourage others to look towards music, creativity and adult learning to improve their health.”
Learning and Work Institute chief executive, Stephen Evans, says the Festival of Learning awards help make the case for greater investment in adult education: “As a country we must rise to some big challenges over the next decade and lifelong learning can help do that – contributing to achieving net zero, levelling up opportunity, improving health and wellbeing as the population ages and so much more. Investment in adult education is rising again, but will still be lower in 2025 than it was in 2010. We need to be much more ambitious for lifelong learning. Our award winners help make that case.”
This year the Learning and Work Institute is also providing a special recognition award to the Ukraine Adult Education Association. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the association and its member organisations have mobilised to support defence and humanitarian efforts. Examples include online courses in first aid and tactical medicine, psychotherapeutic classes and courses on media literacy and spotting fake information.
More details for each of the Festival of Learning award winners are available from their website.
Pictured, top (left to right)
- First row: Emma Smith, FD Works, Helen Sonnenfeld
- Second row: Joanne Matthews, Shamim Hussein, Jo Wyard