Five UNISON learning reps (ULRs) from across the union shared their experiences at a fringe event at national delegate conference in Brighton last month. Chris Tansley, from the national executive council, introduced the event, which also included a ‘have a go’ session where participants tried out some of the online learning opportunities offered by UNISON’s Learning and Organising Services.
The ULRs’ stories demonstrated the value of learning as a way to get people interested and involved – because it gets non-members into the union, it gets existing members active, and it builds active members’ confidence. ‘It’s not just about representation and appeals,’ says Carol McGrath from Leeds City Council. ‘It’s about the lighter side of life, too!’
Nigel Wass from Lincolnshire Police branch agrees. ‘Our learning work shows that the union is not just for when things go wrong at work.’ He encouraged delegates to work with other branches in their area. ‘You might not be able to get enough people to fill a course in your branch alone. But you can do things together that you couldn’t do on your own.’ He was speaking on behalf of one of a number of branches from several different sectors that make up the UNISON Learning Lincs project.
Amanda Brown from Dorset County branch talked about UNISON’s Return to Learn – a ten week course designed to build confidence and skills for people who have been out of formal learning for some time. She’s found the ULR role so rewarding that she thinks everyone should consider becoming one!
And the Blackpool Health ULR team of Jane Eyre and Bev Herring showed that they have a flair for the creative. In 2016 they organised a dance flashmob in the foyer of Blackpool Victoria Hospital to kick off Learning at Work Week, and this year they invited popular Blackpool drag act Funny Girls to open the celebration for them. Proof that union learning can be fun and memorable!
‘Learning changes lives,’ said Roger McKenzie, assistant general secretary. ‘I’ll never forget meeting a member who told me that, because of the learning opportunities that UNISON had offered them, they’d been able to go home and read their kids a bedtime story for the first time ever.
‘This stuff is what we do.’