“We laugh until we cry in our sessions, it’s so nice to see how their skills have improved.”
Formed in 2012, Vale People First Men’s Group offers men in the community a safe space to have open conversations and learn new life skills.
The sessions, which run weekly from a community centre in Barry, give members the opportunity to gain qualifications, make new friends, and discuss men’s issues that are important to them.
The men, whose ages range from 18 to 60+, live with various conditions, including autism, cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, and depression.
With the weekly four-hour session becoming so popular, a waiting list was started, and a second group formed to accommodate demand.
The group is run by joint tutors, Liz Marriott and Joanne Price. Joanne explained: “We start each session with a quick check-in around the room, talk about good news or any problems then move on to different subjects.”
Some of the topics covered include anger management and coping with emotions, budgeting, recycling, food preparation, digital support and other essential life skills such as time management.
“We try to have fun as well as learning. Sometimes we have trips out, our members often like physical activities such as visiting Cosmeston Lakes”, says Joanne.
Many group members have seen huge boosts to their confidence from attending the sessions, and some have gone on to start volunteer positions or have learnt to read and write.
The group has been awarded the Essential Skills for Life Inspire! Award, recognising the life skills and confidence it has given its members.
Sessions are not only used to discuss vocational topics, but the group also provides an environment for the development of social skills and friendships.
Joanne said: “A lot of the men suffer with loneliness, so coming to the sessions means they get out of the house and talk to people, it gives a sense of companionship.
“It’s also about ensuring a safe space for men to talk. We often have other organisations come in and discuss different topics such as men’s sexual health – help which they might not seek on their own.”
The Vale People First Men’s Group is one of 11 winners to be recognised at the 2023 Inspire! Awards. Co-ordinated by the Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government. The Inspire! Awards recognise those who have demonstrated a commitment to never stop learning. Each Inspire! winner demonstrates how learning can offer second chances, help create new career opportunities, build confidence, and help communities to become vibrant and successful.
One shining example from the group is Mark Tierney. Mark couldn’t read or write when he first joined but has since learnt and is now employed as the group’s health and wellbeing officer, delivering presentations on subjects such as healthy foods.
Mark said: “I have been a part of Men’s group from the beginning, and I love it. I can read and write now, and I have a job with the group. You are never too old to learn and it’s better when you can have fun at the same time. I used to feel miserable, and I used to moan a lot but now I’m always happy.”
The sessions provide a positive space for members to express themselves and learn new skills.
Joanne commented: “I absolutely love the group. We laugh until we cry during our sessions and it’s so nice to see first-hand how people’s skills can improve.
“One of the main skills we teach is writing. One member recently learnt how to write a capital A, and his sister’s name is Ashleigh, so its even the smallest things that can make a big difference.”
Moving forward, the group plans to carry on exploring new topics and encourages learners to suggest subjects they’d find useful. Time is also set aside in the syllabus for unaccredited courses, such as setting up a pretend shop to put the men’s money management, food preparation and social skills into practice.
“I’d say to anyone thinking about exploring adult learning to go for it. It makes such a difference to people’s confidence and it’s so worthwhile”, says Joanne.
The Inspire! Awards will take place this year on September 14th and celebrate the achievements of exceptional individuals, community projects and organisations.
For adults in Wales keen to start their learning journey, in-person taster courses and online sessions will run throughout September and during Adult Learners’ Week (18th – 24th September), with advice and information available locally to inspire people to take up learning as a way of increasing their employability and improving their confidence and mental wellbeing.
Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, said: “Congratulations to this year’s Inspire! Award winners and nominees. It’s incredible to see so many individuals of different ages, from varied backgrounds, and with a range of abilities overcoming personal challenges and becoming role models to us all.
“The Inspire! Awards are a fantastic platform to showcase learners who have gone above and beyond to turn their lives around and succeed in their careers. Thanks to their hard work and dedication, this year’s winners have shown how learning can help pave the way to personal and professional success.
Joshua Miles, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute, said: “The Inspire! Awards serve as a reminder of how important it is to never stop learning. We live in a world that’s changing rapidly, between the impact of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and emergence of new technologies, nothing stays still for long. Learning helps us to adapt to this change and ultimately to benefit from it.
“If we keep learning and improving our skills throughout our lives, we can continue to increase our job prospects, and are more likely to secure a promotion or be able to change careers. We also know that learning is good for our self-esteem and mental health, making us feel more linked to our community.
“Our Inspire! Award winners are a testament to how learning throughout our lives can help us to deal with life’s challenges. As we celebrate our winners, we hope that their stories can inspire more people across Wales to take part in courses throughout Adult Learners’ Week.”
To find out what’s going on during Adult Learners’ Week, and for personalised advice on your own learning options and support available, get in touch with Working Wales on 0800 028 4844 or search www.workingwales.gov.wales.