Winners of the 2023 Festival of Learning awards announced

The awards honour and celebrate moving stories from learners, tutors, employers and providers

The awards honour and celebrate moving stories from learners, tutors, employers and providers

Learners who have had to deal with family tragedy, severe brain damage and homelessness are among this year’s Festival of Learning Awards winners.

Ten students, tutors, colleges, providers, and employers were recognised for their inspiring stories as part of a celebration of lifelong learning at an awards ceremony run by Learning and Work Institute and supported by Phoenix Insights.

“This year’s Festival of Learning award winners are truly inspiring,” said Stephen Evans, Chief Executive at Learning and Work Institute.

“Their stories demonstrate the many ways adult learning holds the key to improving people’s job and career prospects, increasing health and wellbeing, widening participation in society, and much more besides.”

The award sponsors were NOCN, the ETF, City Lit, and the Skills and Education Group.

Illness didn’t hold back award winners

Jackie Butterworth was diagnosed with bowel disease ulcerative colitis in 2013 and had a stoma fitted the following year.

The LWI awarded her the learning for health award after she took part in support groups and courses. She has now set up her own group to support others going through similar challenges.

The new directions award went to Jason Richards, who was recovering from severe brain damage and years of homelessness when he found training opportunities through Newground Together.

Following his learning, Jason found not only work opportunities, but also got the chance to reconnect with his family.

Paul Eeles, chief executive at Education and Skills Group, the award sponsor, said the award highlights one of the best things about lifelong learning, allowing people to make a fresh start and follow a new path.

“Life can lead you in unexpected directions, and continuous learning is vital to taking the opportunities that come your way,” he said.

Learners overcame unimaginable struggles

Fakhra Irfan was awarded the English language learning award.

When she first moved to the UK, Fakhra didn’t speak any English and lacked the confidence to explore beyond her home environment.

She pursued adult learning and gained newfound independence after her husband died shortly after she gave birth to her third child.

Meanwhile the return to learning award was won by Tyrese Williams.

Tyrese found school extremely challenging and left without any GCSEs. But her life changed when she was referred to a first steps to learning course at Buckinghamshire Adult Learning, which is aimed at young parents developing English, maths and digital skills.

“People coming back to learning at any point in their lives is something to applaud. The knowledge, skills, joy and fulfilment they gain is something that changes and improves lives immeasurably,” said Mark Malcomson, CEO at City Lit, the award sponsor.

The winner of the patron’s award, chosen by LWI patron Princess Anne, was Margaret Porta. She won after gaining new IT skills through tutoring with the Open Age DigitALL Project and successfully put together a digital campaign to promote her first ever art show.

Tutors make ‘transformational’ impact

The tutor award went to Emma Iliffe for her dedication and passion for deaf culture and the deaf community. Emma is a teacher of British Sign Language (BSL) at City Lit.

“The transformational impact tutors, trainers and educators have is not limited to learners,” said Katerina Kolyva, chief executive at Education and Training Foundation, the award sponsor.

“It extends beyond the learners to their families and communities. In a world where we are all contending with diverse and rapidly-evolving challenges—ranging from the accelerating impact of technology on work to a cost-of-living crisis—this has never been more important.”

The winner of the learning for work award, sponsored by NOCN Group, went to Geoff Carter.

Geoff secured employment on the HS2 project after an extended period of unemployment followed by a family tragedy. Judges said his construction training not only brought him skills and qualifications, but it also empowered him to show his children what a good working life looks like.

Employers were also celebrated at the ceremony. One such award went to charity St Giles Trust, which won the president’s award for its London Peer Hub. The programme trains and supports learners to ‘turn a past into a future’ and achieve a level 3 NVQ in Advice and Guidance – usually the first qualification that they have ever attained.

Nuneaton Signs won the employer award, sponsored by NOCN Group. Since 2021, the company has offered supported internships for young people with special educational needs and disabilities in partnership with North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College (NWSLC).

Meanwhile, Fircroft College was selected to win the Learning Provision Award. As one of only two adult residential colleges in England, judges found the college provides a safe and welcoming environment for learners with multiple and complex needs.

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