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Beacon Awards legacy case studies

Abingdon and Witney College

We won the RCU Award for Support for Students in 2021. The programme ‘A carer’s journey’ is a collaboration between Oxfordshire Adult Learning (a faculty of Abingdon and Witney College) and Action for Carers, Oxfordshire, which started in 2018 as a series of workshops and short courses that support the needs of unpaid carers.

The programme consists of three stages:

Stage one focuses on confidence building and empowering the carer to manage their caring role. Courses include first aid at home and safer moving and handling.

Stage two focuses on maintaining the physical and mental wellbeing of the carer, reducing stress and isolation and contributing to a better balance between life and caring. Courses include art for relaxation, mindfulness and creative writing.

Stage three focuses on improving motivation to move on from the caring role into volunteering or employment.

Before the first pandemic lockdown, lessons took place in person at one of our campuses or in community venues. Feedback always highlighted the benefits of spending time with others in the same position, the friendships and support carers found in addition to the learning that was taking place.

At the time of winning the Beacon Award, the pandemic was in mid-flow and all course delivery had moved online. The online delivery model proved very successful and was well-received by carers. The unexpected benefits have been numerous, not only for the learners, but also for the college:

  • Fewer car and bus journeys - better for the environment
  • Time and money saved by not travelling to lessons
  • Reduced time away from loved ones being cared for
  • Reduced cost and stress of finding cover whilst the carer attends lessons
  • Improved wellbeing reported in learner feedback
  • Improved and developing digital skills
  • Improved lesson attendance
  • Improved learner retention
  • Increased enrolment numbers

As a result of positive feedback, delivery has remained online ever since. One potential disadvantage was the loss of direct contact with others, but despite not meeting in person, learners have reported maintaining existing friendships and support networks, and establishing new ones.

The course offer has expanded over time in response to surveys and requests from learners, with greater focus on mental health and physical wellbeing, post-pandemic. Yoga for relaxation, arts and crafts, cognitive fitness, strength and conditioning are some of the newer courses on offer. In response to the cost-of-living crisis, courses on money management, reducing food waste and cooking nutritious meals on a budget have been added.

The development of the curriculum on this programme is totally responsive and led by our learners and our partners at Action For Carers, Oxfordshire. This allows for a dynamic course offer that continues to be a lifeline and invaluable support for unpaid carers in our community.

Heidi Jordison is the Head of Faculty at Oxfordshire Adult Learning