Finding hope in the cost-of living crisis | Adult Learning Wales

Finding hope in the cost-of living crisis


The cost-of-living crisis is gripping. Bills are skyrocketing, and people face choices about whether to eat or heat, no matter how hard they work.  Even everyday items seem out of reach. It is a gloomy picture. But we’re working to provide a glimmer of light. Adult Learning Wales is helping people explore routes out of poverty and find ways to unload some of the burden.

We surveyed our learners, members and staff. What stood out was that access to learning opportunities is increasingly offering so much more than just the learning. It provides a place to keep warm, meet other people and socialise, have something positive to look forward to, new friendships, routine and a sense of normality. And it offers some much-needed fun.

I met a group of learners with additional learning needs in Upper Cwmbran who were decorating pumpkins. Their carers told me this is a lifeline for them. It brings them into a warm place, they mix with other people and have fun. They dread the session ending because it takes them away from that liveliness, and we are looking at how we can put more on for them. And that’s the thing, demand for our services is high. We are trying to put on more warm hub activities, like numeracy, literacy and digital skills sessions, where we provide a warm place for people to go because they can’t afford to heat their homes.

For other learners, having the opportunity to upskill offers a potential route out of poverty. The poorest are worst affected by the crisis, and 100,000 people in Wales are already on negative budgets. Many people work extremely hard, often doing two or three jobs and are only paid minimum wage. So, they are reliant on benefits. We’re working with them to develop new skills so they can find a path to higher-paid employment. To make that happen, we provide opportunities to learn around shift patterns, such as in the evening and on weekends, where they can also bring their children if they need to. And we bring the learning to them at local community venues so they don’t have to worry about travel.

As well as learning those new skills, classes also present an opportunity to share the burden of the cost-of-living crisis and discuss the challenges. Well-being is vital at times like this. It reminds people they are not alone and others are going through the same thing. And it pulls together knowledge, information and experience. You often hear someone say, ‘did you know you can get this from there’, ‘there’s this charity here that can help,’ or ‘there’s a foodbank here you can access’. That’s crucial, particularly when English is not your first language.

Adult Learning Wales has seen an increase in people from Ukraine using our services, wanting to develop their language skills and become economically active. Many of them are professional women. I met a group in Cardigan made up of accountants and economists. They moved here with their children, leaving their husbands behind to fight in the war. Despite that trauma and facing the cost-of-living crisis, they were positive, and had a great sense of purpose. And interestingly, almost all of them have decided they want a different career path. They’ve realised there is more to life and want to pursue something they are passionate about.

We’ve often said that what we do as an organisation is life-changing. But now, it is more than that.

I was talking to a group on a carpentry workshop in Port Talbot. One of the men suffered a heart attack a little while ago and spiralled into depression. The carpentry workshop gave him hope, friendship, and a reason to live – he said he wouldn’t be here without those sessions. And he’s not alone.

During these tough times, many of our learners are telling us that what we do is also life-saving.


Kathryn Robson, Chief Executive
Addysg Oedolion Cymru | Adult Learning Wales

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