Tuesday, 1 July 2008

research report completed!

I've written the research report and Emailed to the Project Team - phew - hope it is useful and a 'job well done' - it's been good to listen to the recordings, read the notes and remember the meetings with the Fairfield and Muirton folks and their stories about learning.

The research journey began with a walk round the areas, crossing the bridge between and getting used to the differences and similarities. And always the people. Who make up the communities, who care about their communities and were keen to describe their learning experiences but also wanted to know about the other learning opportunities that are out there or could be in there, in the community.

I'm creating some personalised postcards to give out as a 'thank you' to everyone who participated in this action research project, I couldn't have done it without them and without you. The highlights have included - meeting lots of interesting individuals and groups (I really like meeting new people), being invited to committees and lunch clubs (roast lamb and home-made soup), seeing the community through someone who lives there's eyes, having a McDonald's with some young folks and hearing about their hopes for the future (apprenticeship, sports coaching), listening to the workers' stories about learning and their commitment to the people, and many other memories.

To be continued .....

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

community activism

I've been thinking of the term 'community activist' and looking at definitions on the internet, although Wikipedia doesn't have a page for this, interestingly, only 'activism' and 'community building' ... On other websites there are references to activism as 'changing the system' and in the findings from a report on the changing nature of community activism 'From placards to partnership'


the phrase 'more subtle approaches based on strategic negotiation within the new local governance structures' is used to describe some of the changes.

In the 1980's I was a community activist in South Lanarkshire, living in an ex-mining village as my children grew up. But if you had asked me then what I was I would not have described myself as that - it was a matter of working with others in the community to create projects and raise funds to allow us to give our children the best play experience and to help others in the community. We were all volunteers, mothers who didn't work and didn't expect to work, living mostly in council houses. I suppose some were single parents although it's not one of the lasting memories. I started with a 'mother & toddler group' then playgroup, forming committees, working further afield on branch committees, visiting other playgroups, getting travel expenses but doing the work for free. We got a community minibus, I was a driver, and we went away for trips, to the beach, the zoo and to the shops.

I remember a council worker helping us with different things - training courses, funding sources, ideas - but it seemed that we were the driving force. Other activies including being on the school board, on steering groups Lanarkshire wide and doing youth work - attending residential training for this which involved 'trust games', being video'd and groupwork activities. We all became much more self-confident and self-aware - of our abilities and natural aptitudes as well as developing new skills, ideas and networking.

Getting back to the 'changing nature of community activism' it's interesting to hear how people are still having an influence on decision-making, adopting a more gentle approach to activism. In the previously mentioned project there is a quote from an interviewee "I think there's another cultural shift which has been the way you get your message across, whatever that message might be .... that you are more sophisticated, that you play the game, that you do it in ways that are less in-your-face" (p59 of report).

Friday, 23 May 2008

change of plan

We've just been involved in another focus group, this time an established group of more than 2 years, and we began as usual with the semi-structured questions. But found that the group had other plans and wanted to discuss their concerns about the future of their group.

So we listened to their concerns, wrote down their achievements and questions that they had for the 'powers that be' on a flipchart and then in a letter that they could adapt as required.

This was an interesting development and although we didn't manage to work through our list of questions we did get some answers in our research into learning. We found out that this group were able to speak out about their concerns, they were articulate and expressive in listing the reasons as to why the group should continue. And they had an impressive amount of evidence as to the information learnt and the social benefits. It demonstrated that the learning needs were being met and that there was reflection on this.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

muffins uneaten

Just to let you know that we did not have anyone coming along for the focus group at the centre, we'll just have to take the muffins home ...

But this is OK as it's not always easy to go along to a new group meeting, people are busy and already attend their own groups. It's easier to meet people where they're at. I've been visiting groups that already meet for learning to find out their thoughts on the learning they've had, how they accessed it and what they would like to do in the future. Common themes include the need for guidance, help with looking at the choices available for careers that people are thinking of in the future, when their children are a bit older or to enable them to apply for more skilled jobs. Another highlighted area is Scottish culture and history for the learners who have come to live in Scotland from another country. Creative writing opportunities is another theme - short story writing, poetry and being able to write articles for the press - practising these activities also helps with their grammar and spelling. And increases self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.

I must have met now with over 50 people individually, local residents and workers, to get a feel for the Muirton and Fairfield communities, their experiences of living and working in these areas, and their hopes for the future. Many of the community activists in Muirton are in more than one committee or group and are keen to involve others and to see change in their community. Fairfield has a core of residents that use the centre and involve people from other areas in their activities. This is a 'tale of two cities' - both regeneration areas but at different stages of the journey.

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known." Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)


Hi there - we're at Fairfield Neighbourhood Centre at this moment waiting for folk to appear for the pre-arranged focus group on learning - it's now 10.10am, the group was meant to start at 9.45am - the muffins and chocolate fingers are waiting to be eaten - looks like we may have to eat them ourselves ....

Friday, 16 May 2008

a vision of the future

I've just been looking up some websites about social firms - businesses created to provide employment opportunities for disabled people. A disabled person in this instance could be someone with a physical impairment or mobility problem, have an understanding or communication difficulty, a mental health problem, impaired sight or hearing.

One of the websites is IMBY (I'm assuming it stands for 'in my back yard') which has been around since 1996, employs more than 20 staff, has a turnover of around £600K and believes that 'disabled and non-disabled people should be able to live and work alongside each other without anyone being surprised about it'. There is a page on the website that describes a vision of the future: www.imby.org.uk/id20.html and I thought I would share it with you as I found it interesting and thought provoking. The author Mark Powell is the Chief Executive of IMBY and I've heard him before on a podcast talking about social firms, an inspiring speaker who makes you want to find out more about the subject.

Not sure if this is completely to do with adult learning but there is a link I suppose if we think of 'barriers to learning', how to involve people with disabilities and how to be more inclusive.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

starting interviews & focus groups

I'm having a week off just now, enjoying the sunny weather and getting into the garden. Also preparing for next week's start of the one-to-one interviews and focus groups, a chance to speak to people about learning - the learning they have been involved in and the learning opportunities they would like to access.

We'll be using a semi-structured interview style, some focussed questions that also allow the interviewee time to talk about their views and opinions. Hopefully people will be able to discuss their hopes and dreams linked to the learning experience, what they would like to achieve in the future if the barriers were removed and if they had the confidence and information at hand to do this.

It's good that I will be helped in this work by a postgraduate community education student who has been on placement with the council, and she is already contacting groups and individuals to prepare the way. We will both learn more about narrative interviews and focus groups by doing it and by reflecting on the experience. I remember when I was a student on the same course over 10 years ago, the excitement and challenge of the placement, gathering all the required evidence and matching it up with other bits of evidence and linking it to different criteria - not an easy job .... At the same time we had to write reflective accounts of every event and it seemed like telling the same story over and over again!

I'm also getting lots of help from the other project team members, thanks to all of you, and it's been an enjoyable piece of work because of the support from this team. They are the people on the ground doing the day-to-day work, organising learning opportunities, helping people to meet up with each other, reducing social isolation and just being there.

I hope that I can do a good job of writing the report, capturing the essence of the work that is going on, the learning opportunities and also revealing some of the hoped-for learning and the potential revealed in these regeneration areas. There is a lot of hope already there, many people who are true community activists and give their time in serving the community, working with each other to improve communication and services.

This could be summed up by the phrase 'the complete is more than the sum of its pieces' or 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts' (attributed to the Greeks, possibly Aristotle)

Thursday, 1 May 2008

barriers to learning?

"Learning is a key tool in securing equality of opportunity, but at the moment that key turns most easily for people with the confidence, money, motivation and opportunity to join in" - a quote taken from a consultation by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (http://www.dius.gov.uk/). And the quote goes on to describe the barriers to learning and the people that might be affected:

  • Older people lacking money or mobility or both

  • Those with learning difficulties or disabilities who need the chance to develop their learning and also skills for independent living

  • Poorer people who face barriers that may be financial or to do with their prior experience of learning

  • Ethnic minority groups, who may face language or other barriers to learning

John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, says that adult learning may be stimulated by a TV programme and this has happened already locally (I think it was in Fairfield where CSI influenced a course of learning). And he also writes that more learners are now designing and developing learning themselves. This is an exciting concept and is at the heart of community education, empowering the participants.

Another area which might hold people back from learning is appropriate guidance, helping them to make choices. A person might need to look at their own skills, experience and past learning, and to be encouraged to reflect on these so as to make an informed choice about future learning. My last FT post was in an FE college on the guidance team and I worked particularly on a student mentoring project. I found that the student mentors often needed to discuss their past and present learning to have a perpective on their choices for the future - whether to pursue study at university, to postpone for a year or to go directly into employment. And they in turn would discuss similar topics with the student mentees they voluntarily worked with at college.

Learning is an exciting journey, I know because I'm still on the road, and it can be a challenge knowing the right or best way to go. Often it's knowing what's not the right choice that can be the greatest help.

TS Eliot said "we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time"

Saturday, 26 April 2008

focus groups and learning

For the adult learning research we will be using focus groups as well as one-to-one semi-structured interviews. A focus group means getting together with a group of people who share the same interest(s), live in the same area or have a common goal. And to focus or discuss in particular one topic, in this case 'adult learning'.

As there are groups already meeting in the Fairfield and Muirton areas it makes sense to join them and to find out their ideas and opinions about the learning they have experienced or would like to access locally. The advantage of being a 'stranger' is that I can see the group with fresh eyes, observe the processes and interactions, and hopefully ask questions that will result in new avenues for learning. Of course the community workers have laid the foundations for the research to be possible and the residents are the important people in this equation. They are striving to make their communities welcoming places, encouraging neighbourhood participation and safe practices.

I've already been invited to some groups and enjoyed the company and chat. And I have heard from people regarding their learning hopes, including

community activism - becoming a local councillor
counselling studies - another type of counsellor, training to help other people
marketing - being able to write stories for the local press and to promote the project
IT skills - with qualifications as an end result

I'm looking forward to doing the focus groups, with help from a postgraduate community education student, and hearing about people's hopes regarding learning.

I received an Email from a friend recently that had some words about learning spoken by Maya Angelou (apparently to Oprah Winfrey on american TV) which I found quite moving and could identify with:

"I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on and it will be better tomorrow.

I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle these three things - a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.

I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents you'll miss them when they're gone from your life.

I've learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.

I've learned that sometimes life gives you a second chance.

I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back.

I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart I usually make the right decision.

I've learned that even when I have pains I don't have to be one.

I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone, people love a warm hug or just a friendly pat on the back.

I've learned that I still have a lot to learn.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

(Dr Maya Angelou is a poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director
www.mayaangelou.com )

Sunday, 20 April 2008

lifelong learning

Getting back to learning, and the phrase 'lifelong learning' that is used in the community context (in P&K council there is a committee dedicated to this) and the expression "it's never too soon or too late for learning" which throws the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" out the door (http://www.wikipedia.org/).

>all learning activity undertaken throughout life whether formal or informal .... learning is a process of active engagement with experience ....... it is what people do when they want to make sense of the world (I like this one)

The lifelong learning agenda or movement is not just local or national, Scottish Government says it's about 'personal fulfilment and enterprise' (www.scotland.gov.uk) , but global - it's been given a high priority in the EU which adopted a Communication in October 2006 to put lifelong learning at the core.

I think that people sometimes equate learning with education, and if they've had a negative experience at school it might put them off 'learning'. Because of the emphasis on academic achievements, exams and reading books, many will have chosen practical or manual employment. And some may have got the academic qualifications but have really wanted to be doing things rather than reading about doing it.

I know that schools now do not support competition and say it's the taking part that counts but no-one likes to be last in a race, at least I don't! I never liked taking part if I didn't think I had a chance, if ever so slight, of winning the race, award or of giving it a good shot. I remember at secondary school that I was always asked to make up the numbers for the relay race, this was at Perth Academy in the 60's, and many of the girls didn't want to run because of self-consciousness, what they looked like in the gym shorts etc. Well I usually was persuaded to by tactics like "if you don't do it we won't have a team", running in third relay position, but always struggled as I wasn't that good a runner and others easily passed me by. And as a final humiliation I ended up very red-faced with the exertion, not the best advert for appearing 'cool' to any 'talent' going by....

I've probably strayed a bit from the learning discussion but could say that for me this was a learning situation - I learnt that I didn't like taking part in some things if it made me feel embarassed, disempowered, not at my best. Recently a friend wanted me to accompany her on the 'Race for Life' the Cancer Research fundraising campaign but I didn't really fancy it. I still don't much enjoy running and would prefer other ways of being involved or getting fit. The difference is that now I can say 'no' to what I don't like and consider other possibilities, and I don't feel bad about it. Through the learning journey I've travelled there's been an increase in self-confidence, self-awareness and self-worth.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

what's on?

I'm just looking through the programme
What's On in North Perth and there are a variety of activities which are either on offer or have recently been on offer in the Muirton and Fairfield areas, including:

stop smoking group – good idea to join with other folks in this
computing – always helpful for getting connected
a 'feel good group' – sounds positive
coffee bar drop-in, few times a week
local history group
youth forums, clubs, groups, drop-ins – great things happening with the young people
winning weigh
– I could do with joining this one!
adult literacy
friendship bingo
youth theatre drama group
micro library – saves having to go into town for a book
fit for the future – I could do with joining this one too ....
YMCA detached youth work, street sports, accoustic cafe
(sounds good)
coffee plus
seniors lunch club
– I've been to this, brilliant food!
active project
'oot the hoose' group with creche

Suzie Nicol the Community Capacity Worker works with the local people in both areas and with other stakeholders to identify activities that are wanted and needed, helping to build self-confidence, creating a sense of belonging to the community. And in the short time that I've been around I've noticed that this is definitely working, the community groups are keen to improve services where they live, to meet with each other and to welcome other folks to join them, including me!

Fairfield Neighbourhood Centre has a team of people who support the community by doing the office work, preparing the food, driving the minibus, looking after the building, welcoming visitors, running classes, working with young people, and many other necessary tasks. Some of the workers live in the community and do it voluntarily, some of them are paid, all are working together to provide a service to the community and beyond. Muirton has a number of community groups, some of which meet in the Community Flat, and these include the Residents' Association, the Community Support Network, Neighbourhood Watch, McFUG (muirton community flat users group) and the Community Development Trust. Hope I've listed most of them, if there are any more please let me know? And a newletter from McFUG is planned, called The Echo, while there is another called Muirton Matters, focussing on regeneration.

It's inspiring.

Friday, 4 April 2008

bit more about learning and blogging

I'm learning how to do a blog .... by doing a blog.

To start with I was a bit wary, not too sure about posting the information - what if I made a spelling mistake and didn't notice - what if I mentioned something that offended somebody - what if the things I wrote seemed silly to other people - what if??
Well - all these things might be happening but if so no-one has said anything about it ....... yet ...

If you're reading this please do make a comment, let me know what you think, you don't have to identify yourself - you could put a nickname or make up a blogging handle or you could just be an Anonoblog (an anonymous blogger) - I'll try not to be a Blogsnob (someone who refuses to respond to blog comments from 'not-friends') or to deliver a Blogopotamus (a long long blog post).

You can see that I've been learning some blogging terms.......

capturing the moment

Walking round Muirton with some young folk who have always lived there but more recently have moved into the newer houses we had a blether and took some photos:

X marks the spot or in this case the lamp post marks the front of what used to be a block of flats where one of them lived - it's hard to make out in the photo but on the ground is a melted plastic bin and up the bottom of the pole - it was set on fire and remains one of the memorable moments ......

"Stone walls do not a prison make
nor iron bars a cage.
Minds innocent and quiet take
that for an hermitage"
Richard Lovelace, 17th century soldier and poet

These bars are to keep the public safe while building goes on .... more new houses .... a new community flat and in the background some of the new scheme already occupied

Another familiar sight on our travels and useful for transporting the shopping - makes sense to leave it on its side as otherwise it might roll onto the road and cause an accident .......

Thursday, 3 April 2008


What is meant by 'learning'?

As previously mentioned it could be the basic stuff – learning to read or write or work with numbers – it might be learning to use words more expressively or powerfully – 'the pen is mightier than the sword' is an expression from 1839, according to Wikipedia, although some think it might go back to classical Greek times and the playwright Euripides.
If we mention salespeople and politicians, actors and TV personalities, it might mean the spoken word being a persuasive tool.

Definitions of learning from an internet search -
“the acquisition and development of memories and behaviours, including skills, knowledge, understanding, values, and wisdom. It is the product of experience and the goal of education”
“an organism is said to have learnt when it has increased its options for applying, to a specific set of circumstances, new or different behaviour which the organism believes will be to its benefit”
“concerted activity that increases the capacity and willingness of individuals, groups, organisations and communities to acquire and productively apply new knowledge and skills, to grow and mature and to adapt successfully to changes and challenges”

I'll write more about this later ......

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

playing ducks and drakes ....

Country scene with the bridge in view and the ducks are on the move .......
..... down into the lade and the coolness of the shade ....

Many thanks to my colleague for sharing her mobile phone photos taken on a lunch break just a stone's throw from the community centre. It's a relaxing picture and makes you want to go and check it out.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008


I've been meeting with lots of workers ... some paid some not ... everyone keen to tell their story about learning and about the people they work with.

It seems the job is more than the work, it's about relationships and caring, and helping people move on or at least not going back. Adult literacy is still an important service to those who have for some reason missed out on education in their earlier years and the difference it makes when a person learns is transforming, at whatever age. Lifelong learning is the ideal, promoted by the community educators, and can be a worthwhile goal when people know what they want to learn and enjoy the process.

I hope that I may capture some of this in the narrative research ... getting to know people ... hearing what they're saying .... community voices

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

information overload but that's OK!

Had some really interesting meetings with individuals and groups – people were willing to chat without prior arrangement and opened up about themselves and folk that they live or work with. As a Perth born and bred person I'm very encouraged by everyone's friendliness and support – it's like I've never been away – I'm seeing a new side to Perth, some of the buildings might look unwelcoming but the community is more than the buildings.
I walked over to Muirton via the railway bridge, quite a climb, I passed a few folk, also people with their dogs, and round to the Grammar School by way of the housing office, trying to find the community wing. The sign had an arrow pointing left, followed it round and I still wasn't sure where it was. I asked a young guy for directions, he offered to take me through the school and show me the way. He said that he wasn't a pupil now but was doing some coaching and seemed to know quite a few pupils on the way round. We went through lots of corridors and outside where he pointed me to the door. Just goes to show that young people can be as helpful as the next person.

Monday, 24 March 2008

first impressions

people care
building going on
dogs running about
good chat
sunny day
windows boarded
colourful graffiti
more building
new beginnings
old photos