There is something of a gaping reality chasm between the vision of the big society and its fruition, not to mention growing accusations that the concept is a smokescreen for cuts. The chasm between vision and fruition might be narrowed by better and stronger mechanisms for civic service – or simply more hours in the day, as big society tsar Nat Wei recently demonstrated.
However, one scheme that has slowly and steadily supported and facilitated volunteers to promote an activity – in this case, adult learning – is the Community Learning Champions project. The drive, a joint partnership between NIACE (the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education), WEA, lifelong learning organsiation unionlearn and education consultants Martin Yarnit Associates, involves people who become active in their community by promoting the value of learning to others.
Launched in August 2009 , the three-year £3m Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) funded scheme ends in March (but of course!) but its ripple effect has been felt at a community level by hundreds of people. More than 1,000 champions should be registered by the end of next month and, if NIACE estimates are right and each champion encourages an average 30 people into learning, 30,000 individuals should be helped into learning as a result.
Champions promote learning among their friends, neighbours, relatives, or workmates; they are trusted as they speak from experience and act as role models to encourage others to take up new skills.
Homeless charity St Mungo’s – which of course has huge concerns about funding cuts – used the Community Learning Champions scheme last year to recruit up to 30 homeless volunteers to become learning champions.
The volunteers, recruited through the charity’s client representative group Outside In which managed the project, encouraged others get involved in learning, anything from gym classes to art workshops.
In the film here, St Mungo’s service user Richard talks about his love of soaking up new knowledge and the difference you can make thanks to a non-classroom learning environment. As he says: “All the time I was homeless, on drugs, this is the sort of thing I always had in my head that when I eventually sorted my life out, it’s the sort of thing I wanted to be doing.”