Learning Plus - A basic skills charity in Ambleside


Trustee Catherine Powloski tells us how Learning Plus began…

WE STARTED BECAUSE In 2001 Lakes Adult Education stopped running Basic Skills classes.

I worked with a group of students who had attended classes I had previously run for Adult Education. One of our students suggested our name Learning Plus and we registered our charity with the charity commission.  I wrote off to the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and local charities for funds and we were able to start.

We were lucky to have the use of the new library Community Development Centre which many people remember. This provided a twelve computer teaching room, a kitchen area and a large meeting room, This development was part of the County’s Credits Scheme to provide the facilities for training people in particularly farmers how to use IT. We set up a Basic Skills Workshop in the Computer room and an ESOL class in the meeting room.  The classes lasted two hours and included a short tea and coffee break where the two groups of students could meet together for a drink and a chat.

When we first started, we had with nine students: three were dyslexic, two had disabilities, five were working: as a handyman, school dinner lady, a hotel owner, waitress and the manager of a Chinese restaurant [who insisted on learning English by reading the Financial Times in class] but we soon had enough students to run the two classes twice a week on Tuesday afternoons and Friday evenings [now |Tuesdays and Thursdays]

In those early days the support we received from Fiona Bloor and Jane Renouth at the library made a real difference to us as i does the support Chris Shepherd provides now. We raised funding from charitable trusts and appointed Kristin Green as our first Basic Skills co-ordinator. Soon afterwards Einir Roberts joined us as a volunteer Basic Skills tutor and became our very efficient Treasurer and Bookkeeper for many years. We also raised the funds we needed to use Touch Type Read and Spell software which was aimed at people who were dyslexic but also could be used to teach beginner students how to use the key board.

After twenty five years teaching in FE and then in adult education  I found it  amazing as well as a bit terrifying to be setting up our own learning centre. From the start we wanted it to be more than a mere classroom. There had been a door to door survey done in Ambleside the previous year and people said they wanted to break down the barriers which existed between people born in Ambleside and off-comers, between young and old and we wanted to break down the barriers between the young people who came from abroad to work in our town and the people who lived here. We want to teach people the skills they need for playing a part in our community

Our aims:

  1. provide small group and individual support in English, Numeracy, Computing, Job Search and  English as a Second Language;
  2. To bring long term residents together with short stay and long stay migrant workers for informal discussion and joint activities;
  3. To encourage members of the group to play a full part in our local community through volunteering and participation in  our own and other organisations;
  4. To provide additional courses and workshops in areas of interest to group members and local people
  5. To assist group members to work towards qualifications where this is appropriate.

The emphasis on bringing people together was always key and Kristin was doing an amazing job, effortlessly teaching IT skills and also delivering individual basic skills to the group which at any given time might have a university student, people with learning disabilities, people who were dyslexic, people who want to improve their skills at work.

“To see students to grow and blossom and to go on to improve their lives for themselves and for others. The mutual support, the mentoring. She remember three of her students: J who wouldn’t look up at all at first, kept his eyes on the ground. Through Touch Type Read and Spell.  His dexterity vastly improved as did his confidence. He went on to mentor others. C was severely dyslexic which was really holding him back, slowly his spelling improved and his writing vastly improved and he went on to get a better job. R so shy and withdrawn with real problems concentrating, started feeling more comfortable, went on to IT, then Creative Writing,

When I asked Kristin what she remembers  about her time with us she said

R himself remembers…

When I first came to Learning Plus, I had very little confidence having recovered from a stroke which had left me with short term major problems and co-ordination difficulties. I was first put on a system called TTRS which improved my hand and eye co-ordination. Then I moved on to study how to set up an email account, surf the internet and send emails,   All the time my confidence was boosted and I felt happy in the fact that I was in an unpressurised situation with people like me, people who were in the same boat as me,   I was amazed and delighted when I was asked to become a trustee. I never would have thought that would have happened.  

R moved on to join the Evergreen group at the Parish Centre and sat on the committee, returned to Learning plus for a time to enjoy creative writing. He has now moved on but still joins us for trips out in the summer