A 46-year-old mum from Cardiff who overcame her own health challenges to help her son with his education has won a national award for her commitment to learning.
Claire Gurton was just 22 when she lost the sight in one of her eyes. She didn’t know it at the time, but she was suffering with neuromyelitis optica (NMO), an autoimmune disease affecting the eyes and spinal cord.
Claire continued to work for another 20 years, until four years ago when her health deteriorated, and she made the difficult decision to leave her busy job at the YMCA. She lost the sight in her other eye and developed some mobility issues, deafness and tinnitus, all of which caused her to become anxious and lose confidence.
When her seven-year-old son Mackenzie’s school started advertising Families Learning Together classes, Claire was apprehensive. But, seeing the classes as a positive way of helping Mackenzie, who has ADHD and other neuro development issues, to improve his concentration and keep up with his classmates, Claire persevered.
Now, Claire and Mackenzie have completed 6 classes and are planning to continue learning together. Mackenzie’s teachers have noticed an improvement in his concentration and schoolwork, and Claire has a newfound confidence in her abilities.
Claire was awarded the ‘Family Learning’ Inspire! Award, a recognition of her commitment to lifelong learning and helping her son to achieve at school.
Claire was one of 12 winners to be recognised at the 2021 Inspire! Awards. Co-ordinated by the Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund, the Inspire! Awards recognise those who have demonstrated a commitment to lifelong learning, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities.
The Inspire! Awards are were part of Adult Learners’ Week, which took place this year from 20-26 September offering taster sessions and live online sessions to inspire people to keep learning throughout their lives.
For Claire, who had been used to working in a busy environment with lots of responsibility, learning with Mackenzie wasn’t just a way of helping him learn. It also helped to fill her days and keep her mind active.
She said: “Mackenzie was only recently diagnosed with ADHD so he’s getting a lot more help now, but before he was medicated, we really struggled to get him to concentrate. You can’t just teach him from a piece of paper, he needs to be actively engaged.
“He’s behind his classmates at school. Going to classes together seemed like the perfect way to help him catch up and bring me up to speed on what he’s learning so I could help more with his homework.”
Going into the first class, Claire worried that being disabled might prevent her from keeping up with the other parents, but she quickly gained confidence.
She continued: “I felt really nervous and anxious. I hadn’t done any learning in a long time, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it. And I didn’t know what impact being blind and deaf would have on my ability to take part. I asked my husband to come with us to the first class, but I felt so supported that Mackenzie and I and guide dog Peggy went on our own after that.
“We started with a Literacy and Number Skills course. The courses aren’t designed specifically for children with ADHD but because the activities are so practical and fun that I found it was much easier to keep Mackenzie engaged.
“Every class starts with the teacher reading a story, and then all the activities are based on that story. There’s a lot of physical counting, cutting and sticking and drawing. We both enjoyed the first course so much that as soon as it finished we signed up for more.
“We did eight during the first lockdown. I was shielding so it was great to have something to occupy our time. It was a bonding experience for us, and we learned tips and tricks to help with Mackenzie’s homeschooling while the schools were closed.”
For Claire, who had been used to working in a busy environment with lots of responsibility, learning with Mackenzie also helped to fill her days and keep her mind active.
She continued: “In work, you get recognition for working hard. Every day you feel like you’re achieving something. When I stopped working, I lost that. Going back into learning has helped me in so many ways.
“I always thought I wouldn’t be able to do the same activities the other parents can do. Now I know I can, I’m much more confident and independent. I’ve made new friends and improved my own basic skills. I’m proud of what Mackenzie and I have been able to achieve.”
Since enrolling on Families Learning Together with Cardiff and Vale College, Mackenzie’s concentration and ability to sit still have improved.
Claire said: “Learning with Mackenzie can be challenging. It sometimes takes us a bit longer to complete activities, but we have so much fun doing it.
“I can see a huge difference in Mackenzie’s attention and the amount of interest he shows in the lessons. He’s learning new skills and knowledge with every class that will help him catch up to where he should be. His teachers have noticed the difference, too.
“The benefits of taking these courses have been huge for both of us. I would recommend it to anyone – if we can do it, so can you.”
Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, said: “Congratulations to all the winners and nominees in this year’s Inspire! Awards. There’s some really powerful stories behind this year’s participants, with some great examples of people overcoming personal challenges in their commitment to learning, and it’s important to celebrate the achievements of everyone who took part. Well done everyone!”
David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute said: “What better way to realise the value of adult learning than to hear the uplifting stories of our Inspire! Award winners. Each and every one of our winners demonstrates the benefits lifelong learning can bring – from improving mental wellbeing, to gaining the skills to land a new job.
“We hope their incredible stories will inspire people across Wales to take that first step back into education. Whatever your motivation for gaining new skills, there’s never been a better time to change your story.”
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.
Notes to editors:
Working Wales, delivered by Careers Wales, is the Welsh Government’s free service to help people aged over 16 to find long-term employment.
Working Wales will allow people who are not in full-time education to access free, expert advice to help identify and overcome barriers that are stopping them from securing and maintaining good quality jobs; from a lack of confidence, the ability to access transport, childcare arrangements, and health problems including disabilities.
The Inspire! Awards are co-ordinated by Learning And Work Institute and supported by the Welsh Government, the Open University in Wales, Agored Cymru, the National Centre for Learning Welsh and Addysg Oedolion Cymru | Adult Learning Wales.