Inspiring Festival of Learning award winners show the power of learning to transform lives

2 July 2019


Learning and Work Institute has announced its Festival of Learning award winners for 2019. The 12 winners, revealed at a prestigious awards ceremony in central London, include inspiring individual stories, as well as outstanding tutors, employers, programmes and institutions.

Festival of Learning – a national celebration of lifelong learning – has been running for nearly 30 years. All of this year’s winners show the power of learning to transform and enrich people’s lives.

The winners are:

Michael Shakil, a care-leaver from London, who overcame a difficult childhood to go to university and pursue his dream of becoming a furniture designer, has been selected by HRH The Princess Royal to receive the Patron’s Award.

City Lit, a pioneering adult education institute, has been awarded the President’s Award. Opening in 1919, City Lit taught sign language to returning soldiers who had been deafened by shell fire. A beacon for lifelong learning for the last century, City Lit has helped more than 1 million Londoners develop their skills and pursue their passions.

Diana Omokore, an inspirational young woman from Leicester has been awarded the Outstanding Individual Award. Taken into care as a teenager, Diana grew a passion for helping other young people. After overcoming adversity, she is studying paediatric surgery and volunteering to support vulnerable children.

Marie Smith, from Wolverhampton, overcame severe depression and transformed her life after returning to education. She has been awarded the Learning for Health Award after going from being trapped at home to returning to work and studying for a degree.

Keoghs LLP, a Bolton-based law firm, with an outstanding commitment to investing in both its staff and community, has been recognised with the Employer Award. Keoghs offers more than 30 apprenticeships a year and has supported 100 unemployed people access work.

Fiona Pickett, from London, has won the Tutor Award. After losing her hearing, Fiona thought she would never teach again. But she has gone on to become a lipreading tutor, including training 70 lipreading tutors, and transformed the lives of hundreds of people facing similar challenges.

Emma Searle, from Devon, received the Learning for Work Award. After seeing paramedics attend a family emergency, Emma was inspired to go back to college and study to be a paramedic so that she could help others too.

Vicky Seagars, from Sittingbourne in Kent, overcame severe anxiety by taking part in family learning at her children’s school. She has won the New Directions Award after going on to university to study midwifery and inspiring family members to start learning again.

Seong Ngoh Chua, from Wolverhampton, who learnt very little English growing up in Malaysia, attended ESOL classes to help her feelings of isolation and empower her children, has won the English Language Learning Award. She is now supporting others to do the same.

Nurturing Recovery, a Somerset-based horticultural project, run in partnership with Bridgwater & Taunton College and North Somerset Council, which helps people recovering from addictions and mental ill health enhance their skills and confidence has received the Project Award.

Stuart Ferris, a community centre caretaker from Oldham, has won the Return to Learning Award. His undiagnosed dyslexia led to Stuart having difficulties with his literacy skills at school, but he returned to education in his 50s to improve his literacy and find work.

Dr Peter Shukie, from Blackburn, has been awarded the Social Impact Award after creating an innovative online platform to support people accessing community learning.

Learning and Work Institute, a policy, research and development organisation dedicated to lifelong learning, employment and inclusion organise Festival of Learning each year.

Chief executive, Stephen Evans said:

“Adult learning has never been more important. Learning can help people into work or climb the career ladder. It can help you make new friends or be active in your community. Learning ca improve health and wellbeing. However, the number of adults in learning has fallen over the last decade and our research shows stark and persistent inequalities, with some groups far less likely to participate.

“Our award winners show just how powerful learning can be and the difference that great tutors and learning providers can make. I hope their stories both help to inspire others to go into learning, and help to persuade policymakers of the need for a renewed commitment to  – and investment in – lifelong learning.”

Festival of Learning is supported each year by the Department for Education.

Anne Milton, minister of state for skills and apprenticeships, said:

“I’m thrilled to see the Festival of Learning Awards recognise and celebrate the achievements of people who are taking the opportunity to change their lives through learning new skills and knowledge. 

“We want everyone to have the skills they need for life and work and Learning and Work Institute is doing some amazing work. It’s so important that we recognise the achievements of those that follow this path and make sure they get the recognition they wholeheartedly deserve. I congratulate all of the twelve winners and I look forward to hearing more about the progress they make.”