Learning for Life

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Learning for Life is a programme which trains and supports volunteers to reach out to people in their communities who need help with basic skills, including single parents and unemployed people. It is run by the Catholic Church's Department for Parish and Family Catechesis, through a day centre at Maryvale House in Birmingham, and in partnership with Matthew Bolton College and Birmingham Core Skills Partnership (which provides the funding).

What goes on

Staff from Maryvale and Matthew Bolton College initially delivered, to around 30 volunteers, a mixture of City & Guilds basic skills awareness training and evangelism training, since the project was also designed to reach out to lapsed Catholics. The course included awareness of the adult National Curriculum level 1 and also of the pre-entry level curriculum, since many of the learners had very low levels of basic skills.

The ethos of Learning for Life is to provide a holistic and caring service to all people who request it, involving befriending and listening to learners and empowering them through personal development. It aims to raise the volunteers' awareness of human dignity, so that they treat learners with respect, and become activists, sign-posters and mentors to promote learning in their own communities. The first course gave the volunteers the confidence to teach basic skills to learners who requested it, as well as making them more aware of the difficulties faced by those who lack these skills.

Results of the project

Some of the volunteers are now interested in becoming adult education teachers, and some are now working at centres which, as well as providing basic skills tuition, meet wider social needs: "Brush Strokes" is a service for people who have arrived from other countries which also provides advice and mentoring, food and clothing; and another centre arranges social outings for refugees and asylum seekers to get to know each other.

Around 200 learners were involved, and staff found that as well as improving their basic skills and confidence, the programme has led some who were not previously seeking employment to do so. Relatively few of the 'hard to reach' were in fact reached, but those who were continue to attend, in part because of the flexibility offered to them in terms of venue and times, which have been found to be important issues for them.

The future

The programme will continue to be funded by the Archdiocese. There are plans to make available City and Guilds level 2 certificate (9295) to all people in Birmingham by spring 2004, in partnership with Birmingham Churches Together and Matthew Bolton College, and eventually to offer levels 3 and 4 to all those in the West Midlands area.

Contact: Parishandfamily.Maryvale@dial.pipex.com

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