HEARTS ON SLEEVE

“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.

Update

It's been a great few weeks.  I've been having a lot of fun naming and positioning a spin off from a county council.  The positioning work evolved into giving the various teams a collective purpose, something they all felt represented them and they could all believe in, but which also had commercial value.  We've been crowdsourcing the naming, which has been fun and involved a variety of physical and virtual workshops  It's reminded me that people can be amazingly creative if you create the right conditions and give the right stimulus.

I've been working for a big multinational on messaging.  It's just been me on this project, but it's been really challenging to try and unite the various parts of the business around a common framework.  It hasn't been fast, but I think we're nearing the finish line.

I had the great honour last month of being the 'continuity host' at the WEA's membership conference (think Dermott O'Leary on X Factor, but without the dress sense, looks and banter).  This was quite something.  We had various speakers and workshops and the conference was streamed from Leeds into 6 remote locations around the country.  The WEA does amazing work in adult education.  At a point where we can see a future with various jobs becoming redundant (industries changing, dying, relocating, jobs replaced by machines, etc) it's essential we all keep learning, especiaily those in low skilled roles.  It fills you with hope to hear the stories of people who were at rock bottom but, through the transformative power of education, regained their confidence and self-repsect and pulled themselves upwards.  Ruth Spellman, the CEO, said some very kind words about me at the end to everyone who attended.  There's some lovely video work Ive done with the talented tea at Short Form that I'll share as soon as it's made public.

And I've had two former clients come back and ask for some extra help which is always pleasing.  

Olix will be two years at the end of August.  Where has the time gone?