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Why libraries are the secret to lifelong learning participation

17 June 2024

I’m sure many of us have memories of visiting the local library as a child, marvelling at the array of stories filling the shelves. As we grow up however, we often forget that libraries are a place for all ages, not just children. They are a place where people can feel safe and secure, where generations can meet freely in a public place and where learning can be encouraged.

At Nelson and Colne College Group, we work so hard to get more of our communities into these spaces, and one of the ways we do this is through our Library Ambitions Programme, which was set up seven years ago with Lancashire County Council.

The programme has weathered the storm of Covid and come out the other side stronger and more purposeful, and it is making a difference to lives across the lengths and breadth of Lancashire.

It was created as a way to align our curriculum delivery to the national Library Ambitions Strategy, Lancashire County Council’s priorities and the Education, Skills and Funding Agency (ESFA)’s community learning objectives. The partnership is focussed on enabling more of the Lancashire community to step into work and build their life skills, utilising some of our most precious community jewels: our libraries.

Initially engaging 100 learners, the partnership has grown considerably and last year we reached 2,136 people. Our courses are individualised to the libraries and their immediate communities too. For example, our offer at Morecambe Library reflects the needs of a deprived area and includes work clubs, confidence building and skills for the future. Contrast that with locations such as Clitheroe Library in the Ribble Valley, where the market is different, our best attended courses are ‘Introduction to Chair Based Yoga’ and ‘Connect and Keep Learning: Medieval Lancashire’. Our sessions are developed in conjunction with the libraries team, their knowledge of their audiences and employment opportunities and skills needs. This means we can be truly flexible and supportive, providing the very best opportunities for Lancashire learners to develop the skills they need to really succeed.

The project has been built to last: people will always need to develop skills, build confidence, share knowledge and provide people with the opportunities to succeed in life.

This year we are expanding our offer to include early years language development courses, in line with Department for Education initiatives, and are also supporting the development of social prescribing events, supporting NHS England’s universal personalised care agenda. By running these programmes within libraries, we can reach more people than we could through the more ‘traditional’ methods of lifelong learning.

Developing and continually delivering on a partnership project like this is hard work, it takes a team of dedicated people who truly understand the difference it makes.

What makes this project truly shine is the truly collaborative, symbiotic relationship that my team and I have with our partner. Working as one is the only way that this has succeeded, and I truly believe that our achievement of being a finalist is one that we collectively share.

My Lancashire adult learning colleagues have worked so hard to develop these programmes and make them something that our communities are truly benefitting from. Their dedication to supporting our county and its people is second to none, and seeing their pride in this accolade has been brilliant. I can honestly say that our county is far better off because of this partnership, and long may it continue.

Being an AoC finalist is a really proud moment. I know everyone says it. It isn’t very original, or anything new. However, whilst others may celebrate their, or their teams’ achievements in getting an accolade such as this, I’m proud for a different reason. My pride is for the people of Lancashire, and the fact that because of this partnership they have better life chances, and our county is getting stronger, following every single programme we help to deliver.

Andy Parkin is the Assistant Principal for Adult Learning and Technical Education at Nelson and Colne College Group.

Applications for the Beacon Awards 2024/25 are now open. Find out more and apply here.