“And then I went to Rochdale”. I’ve been lucky enough to work with the lovely people at the Workers’ Educational Association on and off for over a year now, and I suspect every one of them has heard me use this phrase at some point.

In the first few weeks of working with them, I had tried to get under the skin of the brand.  I wanted to know who they were, what made them tick.  I wanted to know how they were different.  I wanted to know where their soul lay.  I could sense there was a tremendous sense of purpose but that it was hidden.  I’d looked in vain at the website and the collateral and the impact report that listed the statistics of how many students have improved outcomes as a result of passing through the WEA.  There was no pulse, I wasn’t feeling it.

“I need to go out into the field”, I said to James Ward, who is the director of marketing, membership and income at the WEA.  He quickly lined me up with visits to a number of sites around the country – the WEA has hundreds of points of presence throughout England and Scotland – and I went out to Southampton, Ipswich, Manchester, Edinburgh…and then I went to Rochdale.

I don’t need to tell you any more.  We made a film about it...

The WEA is thriving in Rochdale explains tutor Rehana. "Why? The community needs us and supports us...it means so much to them. Some are now becoming tutors and volunteers because of their passion and their commitment. Everyone involved feel they are part of the WEA community".

“You’ve had an emotion by-pass” I remember saying to the senior management team at the WEA when I came back and presented my findings to them last year.  They agreed and we’ve gone about trying to fix that.  This week the WEA relaunched itself, with its heart proudly on its sleeve and with the simple idea at the core of it all – that the WEA provides adult education that’s within reach.  Within reach in terms of convenience as they are in 2300 communities across the country; and within reach in terms of the non-judgmental way it welcomes students and teaches them. 

It’s been a real honour to have played a part in helping make it happen.  You can read more about the journey the WEA is on here.