Reach Out

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Reach Out John Muir Award

Reach Out is a genuinely non-discriminatory project, which values its learners equally.  It works with particularly marginalised and vulnerable people, and successfully employs an empowering adult learning approach with many of those for whom the service 'model' would be more likely to be a therapeutic intervention.  It is underpinned by WEA values, reflecting equality, and the fundamental importance of using a genuinely student-centred learning approach as a means to raising confidence levels and increasing self esteem - and ultimately changing lives.

The WEA staff do not judge, and are prepared to support the learning journeys of their learners, irrespective of their previous history and on-going issues.  The project’s target groups, which include those with long term substance misuse issues, mental health issues, those going through the criminal justice system, and those with learning difficulties/disabilities, are frequently defined by their ‘issue’ – and offered ‘specialist’ interventions/service provision. This is often reflected in ‘silo’ funding, which can mean that the negative identity of alcoholic, unemployed or offender is reinforced. 

It is our experience that Reach Out learners greatly value the project’s approach – which is one of equality, focusing on them primarily as people, and not defining them in terms of their ‘issue/s’.

Every group is a mix of learners with various issues. This leads to an atmosphere devoid of stigma where learners feel valued for who they are and don’t feel judged because of past behaviour or because of their own personal problems. Every learner has different experiences and this can lead to a wider sharing of knowledge, where learners’ confidence and self esteem levels are raised. Working in integrated classes helps them prepare for a different future, where they will come across individuals from all walks of life.

The curriculum is student-centred, and the focus of courses and particular sessions negotiated between tutors and the learner group; ‘relevance’ is key in this process; if learners do not see the relevance of the learning to them and their lives – they will vote with their feet. The commitment to listen to learners, showing to them that their voice is heard and actually matters, is a key part of the process of empowerment through student-centred learning.  Once a year the project also facilitates a ‘Visioning Day’. Learners, potential learners and referral agencies are invited to give feedback on what has been facilitated so far, and what they feel would be useful in the future. As a result of a conversation between Reach Out staff, learners and referral agencies, for example, the project recently facilitated a one off session with a specialised tutor from NESCU (North east Scotland Credit Union) to gauge interest. The session was a great success and in the future it is planned to offer a more in depth course. This shows that the project is flexible and responsive, and is in a position to make on-going change to programmes as a result of feedback.

A life changed

A learner joined us last year.  He is in his 60s and has spent a large portion of his life in prison and his youth in approved school. His last sentence was a life sentence. We decided to take him on at the project because of meetings and telephone conversations we had with criminal justice workers. He is now volunteering in our football group, has taken part in various activities and joined us on the last residential. He now works one day a week for the Samaritans in Dundee and is hoping to go to college to gain a certificate. He knows that because of his past he may not be able to gain employment in the area he feels he could help others the most, but this hasn’t stopped him being enthusiastic about his future and what he can achieve.

This is just example of many that could be used from the Reach Out learner base. It’s fantastic, from a staff point of view, to know that because of engagement and positive reinforcement, not only from staff members and tutors, but also from other learners, that this person feels confident enough to go and take challenges on. Seeing him ‘grow’ as a person, watching how he reflects on past behaviour, how he helps others and the lessons he has learned, makes staff feel that the way they work, the way the courses  are facilitated, and the passion they have for social justice is all worthwhile.

External support

If the project is to be developed in other areas of Scotland, it will need funding for development work in the first instance, to work with a range of potential referral agencies to make them aware of the power of this kind of integrated approach. Once they are on board, and prepared to refer their ‘clients’,  suitable premises will need to be identified and funded. It is Reach Out’s experience that the anonymity of city centre premises has contributed to its success, whereas more locally-based provision can become stereo-typed and stigmatised. Funding sources will need to be ‘inclusive’ i.e. be prepared to fund work with a range of people with different ‘issues’. The alternative version would be for several pockets of ‘issue-based’ funding to be brought together, through which to jointly fund an integrated approach.

The project will need at least dedicated and enthusiastic, and as it is also our experience that as staff take on a huge amount of pastoral support for learners, an advocacy worker would be useful in the mix of staff skills.

However small a new project starts out, it must be integrated in its approach – i.e. refuse to work with only one type of ‘client’. 

For more information on the WEA's Reach Out project click here, or if you want to speak to someone about it directly, please contact the staff team

Reach Out John Muir Award

Project Aim

The aim of the JMA is for those involved to gain a better insight into the natural surroundings and this in turn raises confidence and self esteem

Project Description

Is an environmental award scheme for people of all backgrounds - groups, families, individuals. It's non-competitive, inclusive and accessible. There a 4 levels to the award,

  • Discover a wild place - This can be school/centre grounds, Local Park, beach, woods, river, mountain or national park.
  • Explore it - Do things to increase awareness and understanding, Experience, enjoy and find out more about your wild place(s).
  • Conserve it - Take some practical action and personal responsibility.
  • Share your experiences - Let others know about them, what's been achieved, what's been learned.

Target Audience

This project is aimed at those who are either going through the criminal justice system, have substance misuse issues, have mental health problems, a learning difficulty or are long term unemployed.

Learner testimonials / success stories

At present we have a learner who has gone onto become a volunteer in all Reach out outdoor activities. RM, in the past, has suffered from mental health problems and this got in the way of her nursing career. In the past she has been to expeditions to Borneo and her medical skills, her outdoor skills and her understanding of the issues faced by many of our learners has been a major asset to the project. Her participation within the project has helped raise her own confidence and self esteem.

Reach Out Walking Group 

Project Aim

The aim of the project is to get those involved out and about. This reduces social isolation, builds confidence and self esteem and give a better understanding of environmental issues.

Project Description

The walking group goes to many different locations throughout the north east of Scotland. We try to take in different environments throughout the 10 weeks, from costal walks, hill walks, river walks and woodland walks. During the day we will not only walk but will stop to look at local plant life an animal life and incorporate some basic bush craft skills.

Target Audience

This project is aimed at those who are either going through the criminal justice system, have substance misuse issues, have mental health problems, a learning difficulty or are long term unemployed.

Learner testimonials / success stories

After having been introduced to some of the beautiful locations in Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire learners, who in the past, may have suffered from social isolation are now meeting up in their own time to explore these areas and others. Learners are reporting back that they are staying out of pubs and /or away from those who in the past would have offered 'temptation' not only because they are away all day but also the day and night before because they know they have a full exciting day ahead. they are also so tired upon returning to the city that they are sleeping well without the need for alcohol and drugs.

Reach Out Football 

Project Aim

The aim of the football group is to get those who participate healthier and help to reduce social isolation. It also works on respect issues, both self respect and respect for others.

Project Description

The Reach Out football group meets once a week for a fun but competitive game of football for an hour. We play at Aberdeen Sports Village, indoors, on FIFA approved astro turf.  It doesn't matter how good you are, if you haven't played for a long time or are new to football, its all about mixing with others and taking part.

Target Audience

This project is aimed at those who are either going through the criminal justice system, have substance misuse issues, have mental health problems, a learning difficulty or are long term unemployed.

Learner testimonials / success stories

The feedback we get from learners involves positivity about health matters, both physically and mentally. They also report back that they now have a sense of belonging and they have made new friends. This is helping with social insolation and is helping hose involved get out an about to meet others to got to football matches.

Reach Out Cooking Class

Project Aim

In these courses the learners are taught to cook delicious homemade meals that are healthy, cheap, quick and easy to cook.

Project Description

Learners are shown how to cook healthy meals within a budget. They will also learn how to be safe in the kitchen; from washing hands and utensils to knife and food preparation and safety. Confidence to cook and team building are an important part of the session. Home cooked meals are prepared and eaten together.

Target Audience

This project is aimed at those who are either going through the criminal justice system, have substance misuse issues, have mental health problems, a learning difficulty or are long term unemployed.

Learner testimonials / success stories

 

Reach Out Gardening Group

Project Aim

A social enterprise project involving a number of social enterprises that provide an opportunity to develop life skills and learning opportunities for people.

Project Description

There are greenhouses and poly tunnels at the nursery which the Reach Out project uses. the benefits of gardening are well documented. Growing your own food in not only beneficial for your mental & physical health, eating more fresh fruit and vegetables is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy. Also, it's a great form of exercise; planting, weeding, watering and harvesting the produce is good physical activity.

Target Audience

This project is aimed at those who are either going through the criminal justice system, have substance misuse issues, have mental health problems, a learning difficulty or are long term unemployed.

Learner testimonials / success stories

We have had positive feedback from all the students who have attended the gardening group.