“The impact is immense”

Carol McGrath UNISON ULR event - Learning in a Changing World. UNISON HQ, London. © Jess Hurd/reportdigital.co.uk

In this guest blog Carol McGrath, UNISON learning project worker in Leeds, explains why union learning is so important to her.

I have always had a passion for lifelong learning and I strongly believe learning enables people to live a happier and fulfilled life.

A few years ago, happy with my career path and content in accessing mandatory training which enhanced my skills and qualifications in my chosen career, I decided that I needed more challenges in my life and an opportunity to make a difference.

Fortunately a colleague who was a UNISON representative asked if I was interested in becoming a rep myself. I have been a member of UNISON for a long time and have benefited in the past through the support of the convenors. This is when I made one of the best decisions of my life and became a rep.

During the stewards induction training the branch education officer gave a talk on the role of the UNISON learning rep (ULR). I was hooked, this was exactly what I wanted. Soon after becoming a rep I put my name forward to be a ULR. I loved it. This is when I met the regional learning and organising coordinator Rose Bent. Rose gave me lots of support and encouragement. She mentioned the national Learning and Organising Team based in London. Very soon I was in London attending workshops, events, conferences and immersing myself in the whole earning agenda. The LAOS team are great and very supportive.

I went on to be a lead ULR and did a survey with my work colleagues and members to find out what learning they wanted. Working in adult social care was quite stressful at times and the survey indicated that a managing stress workshop would be very useful. Rose and Martin Russo (ULF project manager from LAOS) helped me set this up with around 18 learners were keen to attend. I completed a Kickstart grant application from the ULF to provide refreshments. Rose and Martin were going to deliver the workshop, but a quick change of heart occurred and they nominated me to do it.

Although a little bit nervous I agreed and the workshop went very well. That was the beginning. I have since been lucky enough to have benefited from the ULF. I completed a Stage 3 Teaching Adults in Further Education Diploma so that I can deliver a wide range of courses and workshops. These courses and workshops help staff to gain functional skills qualifications, access wellbeing workshops that keep them well and safe, sign up for accredited distance learning courses that support their continual professional development and many other invaluable learning opportunities.

As a UNISON project worker and branch lifelong learning officer, I have supported other ULRs through the use of ULF. It is such a pleasure and privilege to watch them gain in confidence and embrace lifelong learning. The ULR role is essential alongside ULF so that they can continue to upskill and support so many people with their learning, the impact is immense.

It was an honour a couple of years ago to win the Unionlearn award for Literacy. Again I would not have achieved this without ULF. I set up a reading group in my large workplace and the ULF helped to launch the reading group and provide a book shelf so that I could set up a lending library. Many people benefited from this, enjoying their new found love of reading. Many more reading groups set up in other workplaces because of this and I am very proud to have been part of it.

The ULF gave me back my passion for lifelong learning and my journey continues. I accessed a UNISON grant to help fund a Diploma in Dru Yoga teaching which I have successfully completed and I will be starting an Integrated Meditation and Compassion Therapist Diploma next year. Maintaining positive mental health and wellbeing is paramount in these difficult times of Covid 19 and these qualifications will enable me to offer support and practical ways in which to do this.

We’re campaigning to save the Union Learning Fund, which will be cut by the government in March. 

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