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Inspirational man from Rhondda shows it’s never too late to learn at 70

Proud Rhondda 70-year-old wins an Inspire! Award for changing his life through learning

A seventy-year-old from South Wales who spent years in a mental health institution has won a national award for adult learning.

Gwyn David, from Gilfach Goch, was a resident of Hensol Hospital for more than two decades and has painful memories of a time he said left him ‘without a voice’.

Now he’s picked up an Inspire! Award after discovering a passion for learning later in life.

[aoa id=”1″]The Inspire! Awards are hosted each year ahead of Adult Learners’ Week – initiatives coordinated by Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund. Inspire! Award winners are rewarded for demonstrating the power of learning in raising expectations, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities, and their stories will also feature as part of Adult Learners’ Week, which takes place this year from June 17-23.[/aoa]

Gwyn, who took the ‘Ageing Well’ award, is one of 12 winners who were recognised in a ceremony at The Exchange Hotel in Cardiff last week (June 5).

His uplifting story was shown on a big screen as people of all ages and from all backgrounds collected their awards while receiving a VIP welcome at the grade two-listed heritage building in Cardiff Bay. The Gilfach Goch-born pensioner said he was “chuffed” to win the award, adding “I just love making people happy. Learning helps me to do that.”

Gwyn was admitted to Hensol Hospital as a 19-year-old with moderate learning difficulties and spent much of his adult life there.

The septuagenarian, who has hemiplegia, a condition that affects one side of the body and causes difficulty walking, describes beds lined up in dark rooms with no windows, and being strapped to a chair for electric shock therapy treatment. He said: “I kept saying I wanted to go home. I thought I was going to die.

“It was lonely. I was told when to eat, when to sleep, when to do anything. I was given drugs, needles in my body. I remember leaving. I felt free. I was shaking.”

Gwyn left Hensol in his late forties as part of the move towards community care for people with learning disabilities and now lives in supported housing. Day centres in the Valleys continue to be a source of friendship and learning and he has been attending Gilfach Goch Day Centre four times a week for the past year.

Once a week, an adult education tutor from Learning Steps at Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council joins the group to engage visitors of all ages in subjects like literacy, numeracy and history, running trips in the community from St Fagans National Museum Of History to The Senedd.

Through classes at the centre, Gwyn has gone from not being able to read or write, to learning to recognise letters and extending his vocabulary and writing his name.

Eleanor Clift, daytime opportunities officer for RCT Council, has known Gwyn since he started attending Tonyrefail Day Centre 25 years ago. She said:

“When Gwyn started coming to the day centre, he would sit in the corner, not speaking. It took a few years for him to gain confidence and now he’s one of the chattiest members here. Seeing what learning has done for him has been incredible.”

Gwyn said: “I love coming here. We go bowling. I like going on trips on the bus. We do arts and crafts, make pizza, visit the beach. I love learning. I love watching the news now and talking about it with friends.

“Learning has given me confidence, and a voice. I didn’t used to have one. Now I’m being heard.”

Maria Carroll, at RCT Council, nominated Gwyn for the Inspire! Award. She said: “I have a great admiration for Gwyn as a person who’s overcome adversity and who demonstrates the importance of being active and participating in learning, regardless of age or previous experiences.”

Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education said: “Gwyn’s inspirational story shows it’s never too late to go back to education. He is a brilliant example of someone who has transformed their life through learning.

“The Inspire! Awards uncover inspirational stories like Gwyn’s, highlighting the strength and adversity people go through in order to better themselves.

“Along with all the winners, Gwyn should be extremely proud of his achievements and by sharing his story, I’m sure he will inspire others in similar situations to follow in his footsteps.”

David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute, said:

“Now more than ever we understand the impact that going back into learning can have on making people healthier and happier, as well as improving prospects for their families and at work.

“We hope these stories will inspire adults from every corner of Wales to take that first step back into learning.  There are opportunities to learn out there and professionals ready to help you access the support you need.  So, if you have been inspired, now is the time to act and to start learning again.”

To find out what’s going on during Adult Learners’ Week and for personalised advice on your own learning options and support available, get in touch with Working Wales – the Welsh Government’s new, free service delivered by Careers Wales. Call Working Wales on 0800 028 4844, visit your local Careers centre, or search www.workingwales.gov.wales