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Meet the people across Wales achieving incredible things through learning

Mental health nurse Ewa Smaglinska, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, Bodelwyddan

Taking place last Thursday, the Inspire! Awards feature as a key part of Adult Learners’ Week – the UK’s biggest festival of adult learning from 20-26th September.

This year’s 13 winners have overcome homelessness, abuse, confidence issues and a lack of formal education to turn their lives around., They were recognised at the 2021 Inspire! Awards for their incredible dedication to learning against the odds.

Mental health nurse Ewa Smaglinska, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, Bodelwyddan
  • Open University Nurses: Skills at Work Winner – When the coronavirus pandemic began in the spring of 2020, the Nursing and Midwifery Council was asked to release nursing students to support the NHS. Apart from those required to shield for health reasons, every one of the eligible nursing students at the OU in Wales wanted to be part of the response – despite having to balance the demands of working long hours on the frontline with continuing their studies when they returned home.
Winelia Preslea De Jesus. Credit: Huw John
  • Wilnelia De Jesus: Young Adult Winner – Leaving school after her GCSEs to support her single-parent family, Wilnelia De Jesus rose through the ranks of legal company Greenaway Scott to become a Practice Manager at the age of just 21. Whilst working as a Practice Manager in 2018, she started a ‘Leadership and Management’ apprenticeship to give her the skills to progress her career. Wasting no time in utilising her new skills, Wilnelia put her knowledge into practice, navigating the multi-million-pound group through the operational challenges of a pandemic.
Claire Gurton. Credit: Huw John
  • Claire Gurton: Family Learning Winner – Claire Gurton left her job four years ago, when her health deteriorated due to an auto immune disease, and she went completely blind. When her son’s school started advertising Families Learning Together classes, she hoped it would be a positive way of helping Mackenzie, who has ADHD, to improve his concentration and keep up with his classmates. Mackenzie’s teachers have noticed an improvement in his concentration and schoolwork, and Claire has a newfound confidence in her abilities.
Unison, WULF Project. Credit: Huw John
  • UNSION Cymru WULF Project: Skills at Work Winner – The UNISON WULF Project aims to increase the skills, confidence, wellbeing, and employability of the public service workforce across Wales. Since March 2020, the UNISON WULF Project was able to support over 2,500 key public sector workers and deliver over 150 expert-led webinars.
Joshua Osbourne, Swansea. Credit: Huw John
  • Josh Osbourne: Starting Out – Welsh Beginner Winner – When Josh Osborne decided to move to Wales to live with his Welsh-speaking partner, he was determined to learn the language. So, in May 2020, while completing his master’s degree and still living in England, Josh started an experimental course being held by the National Centre for Learning Welsh. Just over a year after first starting his course, he is enjoying speaking Welsh confidently and says learning the language has brought him closer to his partner.
Daniel Jones at Comgen, Bridgend. Credit: Huw John
  • Daniel Jones: Into Work Winner – After leaving college, Daniel Jones was faced with uncertainty about his job prospects, a lack of confidence in himself, as well as difficulties communicating with new people. So, to better his chances of finding employment and achieving his dream of a role in the IT industry, he joined the Itec Training Solutions Employability Skills Programme. Determined to improve his skills, he completed the Employability Skills Programme with flying colours. From there, Daniel landed a Job Growth Wales placement with Comgem. Two weeks into his placement, Daniel secured a full-time role at Comgem and is well on his way to building a successful career in IT.
Liz Day, Cardiff. Credit: Huw John
  • Liz Day: Starting Out – Welsh Beginner Winner – Liz Day was made redundant in August 2020, but she was determined to turn a negative situation into a something positive. She Liz excelled in her Welsh course and has since completed more than 240 class hours, reached a 300-day streak on Duolingo and passed the Sylfaen (Foundation) Welsh oral exam with a score of 98% – all in just one year. She has also started her own podcast and blog, ‘Liz Learns Welsh’, to document her journey and inspire others to learn Welsh.
The Wallich, Cardiff. Credit: Huw John.
  • The Wallich: Life Change and Progression Winner – The Wallich has been housing and supporting people who have experienced homelessness for over 40 years. Delivered by previous service users, its Participation and Progression team runs four programmes to help people gain essential skills and work experience. The Wallich also works with employers to support service users into work. It aims to challenge stigma and offers mediation and ongoing support to help them settle into working life.
The Stepping Stones Next Steps Survivors Education Group with centre, Manager, Shirley McCann (black dress) and tutor, Pam Mclean (yellow dress)
  • Stepping Stones: Hywel Francis Award for Community Impact – Stepping Stones North Wales is a charity offering therapeutic, specialist counselling to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Its Next Steps Survivors Education Group at was set up for women survivors of abuse to learn new skills, improve their confidence and increase their overall wellbeing. Since it was set up two years ago, the learning group has given women the skills and self-belief to find employment, apply for university and help their children with their homework.
Fatma Al Nahdy
  • Fatma Al Nahdy: Different Pasts: Shared Futures Winner – When Fatma Al Nahdy made the journey to the UK from Yemen in 2015, she didn’t speak any English. She was pregnant with her son and 35 years old. Due to the ongoing wars and turbulent situation in Yemen she had never attended school. Now, she’s a confident English speaker, she’s learning Welsh, and she’s secured maths and IT qualifications at Colege Cambria. In her dream to become a nurse, she has now been accepted onto a nursing degree at Bangor University. Fatma gives back by interpreting for other refugees like her
Clare Palmer
  • Clare Palmer: Essential Skills for Life Winner – Clare left school at 14 with no qualifications. By the age of 18, she was a mum with a baby son to care for. When she moved back to Wales, she decided to use her passion for helping others to become a care assistant. After six years working in the care sector, she joined the Vale Learning Centre to help to achieve her dream career of becoming a social worker – whilst working in the hard-hit care sector during the pandemic. She has now completed her Level 2 Application of Number and is about to start university.
Phyllis Gregory
  • Phyllis Gregory: Ageing Well Winner – At 92, Phyllis Gregory has always been a keen writer and poet, but when she started experiencing shaking hand syndrome, she found herself less able to write poetry by hand. Determined to keep doing the thing she loved, she saw this as an opportunity to learn to use a computer and enrolled on a digital literacy course at the Gower college. Thanks to her digital literacy course, Phyllis is more confident using a computer to keep writing her poetry.


James Atkinson, Merthyr. Credit: Huw John
  • James Atkinson: Health & Wellbeing Winner – Due to his autism spectrum disorder, James struggled with confidence and found social situations challenging growing up, eventually leaving school without GCSEs in maths and English. After a life-changing work placement with Elite Paper Solutions, he was inspired to go back to college to study ICT and work towards a degree in computer science at university. He has just retuned to college after the summer break where he will be completing his essential skills training and working towards a First Diploma in Level 2 IT and Creative Technology.

Adult Learners’ Week celebrates lifelong learning, whether in educational institutions, through work, at home or as a leisure activity. From 20-26th September, adults across Wales will be able to access taster sessions and courses, as well as success stories that show how learning a new skill can help you change your story.

For personalised advice on your own learning options and support available, get in touch with Working Wales on 0800 028 4844 or search www.workingwales.gov.wales.