I had to stop myself from scattering the word “inspiring” too frequently in this post, but it would be truly deserved. Today I was lucky to be invited to the event run by the Good Things Foundation, to celebrate reaching their 2 Millionth Learner.
As their website says:
“At Good Things Foundation, our aim is to improve lives through digital. And at the end of last year we reached a significant milestone – helping 2 million people gain new digital skills since 2010.
We wanted to put that milestone into context by finding some of the individuals who made up that 2 million, and following their stories.”
And just as they did when they reached their first M milestone, they used the opportunity to scan their community, reaching out to all the different partners who run courses, and seek nominations for awards.
Helen Milner, CEO of the Good Things Foundation, kicking off the event. (I can’t remember what she had just said, but I love the shadow play and display of hands in this photo!)
The event today – which started off with lunch on the famous rotating 34th floor of the BT Tower, aimed to celebrate all 2 million, and share some of the lives changed through learning. All the winners and their stories are shared on the website, but as I’ve come into contact with the Good Things team through work they have done with libraries, I was really pleased to find out that 2 of the winners learned their skills in programmes run in libraries.
The Learning for Health award was won by Bertram Henry. He suffered a breakdown 10 years ago, and has gradually worked his back to health. First by learning digital skills for himself, then, when the online centre manager at Longsight library saw how much he was enjoying his learning, she suggested he become a volunteered as a digital champion. His enthusiasm shines through as he shares his skills with others – and as he says “Now I’m happy with myself. I’m not down in the dumps anymore and that’s thanks to Linda and Learn My Way“. [Learn My Way is the online learning platform built by Good Things Foundation to make getting online easy.]
Bertram receiving his award from a representative of MIND, with Helen on his right.
Another award winner with a library connection is Tasleem Akhtar, who was runner up for the Inspirational Learner award. She came to England from Pakistan, was living in a refuge with her young son, and knew that to build a better life she had to get back to her studies. She did the Learn My Way courses at Newcastle library, is now at college – and is now helping others to follow her same journey. “I was very, very excited to be able to study again. I know if I can learn, I can make my life better. I did not know much about digital before. I could use my phone to make a call but nothing else! Now I know much, much more. You need to know this to be part of society.
I found out that I can volunteer at the library at the same time as learning. So I have something for myself now, but even better I can show other people how to have that too. That has made a big difference to me. I can tell other people ‘I was there too’. You must be strong. You must keep trying to find a way to do what you want to do.”
Tasleem with Helen, and her certificate.
While I was talking with one of the winners, Jenny Bayliss, runner up in the Learning for Work award, who had been introduced as learning her digital skills via Citizens Advice East Staffordshire, leaned over and said that she too now ran sessions in her local library, in Burton. Apparently when the CAB had to move out of their offices, they looked around for available space in the town, and found the library was just right for their needs.
I urge you to read some of the other inspirational stories on the website: Paul – who was left with serious brain injury after a car crash; Bob – who actually suffered a stroke during his digital skills class, but didn’t let that stop him – and was straight back to classes after his stay in hospital, using the internet to find out more about his condition; and Margaret, who used the opportunity to learn digital skills as she fought addiction and depression. One thing they all had in common, was that they said they didn’t think what they had achieved was anything special, but as Helen wrote in the event programme: “I hope this ceremony helps them realise how special their very different journeys and achievements are”.
In the words of the final winner, the truly inspirational Olwyn Popplewell (who just a couple of years ago was sleeping rough – but now has his own flat and a job, and still finds time to volunteer at Evolve, the shelter organisation who helped him, and whose facility includes an online centre) – I wouldn’t be where I am now, I wouldn’t have done even a quarter of it ….. without someone helping me, being so positive, believing in me …. I’ve come from sleeping on park benches to my own place. I’m accepting this award on behalf of all those who want to make their lives better.