Louise is currently a community education worker specialising in promoting community learning activities to mental health service users. She completed a degree in rural health studies and later undertook the workplace based community education postgraduate diploma in 2008.
While undertaking my first degree in rural health studies I became a volunteer for an adult literacy project on one of the Scottish Islands. I wanted to develop my CV and gain some work experience with adults with a view to a long term role in health promotion. However, after doing this role for three years both on a voluntary and paid basis, I decided to pursue a career in literacy and was able to secure a joint position working for a city council, as both an adult literacy worker and an adult learning coordinator.
As there is often a clear connection between low literacy and poor health, including mental health, our project aimed to identify and engage those with low educational attainment to participate in health literacy learning opportunities in order to increase the skills, knowledge and understanding of participants in relation to health and health care whilst also raising awareness of literacy issues amongst health staff.
While working on this project I undertook the workplace based route for postgraduate study in community education which enabled me to continue to work and study at the same time. When I completed the postgraduate diploma a senior community learning worker post in mental health came up which I successfully applied for.
I am employed by the local council but managed jointly by NHS and the council. I supervise a small team of four community learning workers and an adult learning coordinator. I work closely with NHS staff and am based in a mental health hospital, although I have a citywide remit. The main aim is to support and encourage adults with mental health issues to access leisure and learning opportunities in order to aid their recovery; we use a community education approach to do this.
It is a varied role as it involves managing staff, partnership working, managing budgets, funding applications, evaluation, working with clients and organising community activities. Partnership working is both beneficial and challenging; we work a lot with external agencies and health staff to ensure that we reach mental health clients who are interested in participating in community learning activities. As the team organise a wide ranging, city wide learning programme for mental health clients, which can include anything from photography classes to adult literacy sessions to sporting activities, it means every day is varied and the job is interesting as I am constantly coming up against new challenges and situations.
The key skills for my role are strong communication skills, active listening, negotiation, the ability to liaise well with others and flexibility. I would encourage students interested in this kind of role to get involved - drop in to their local community centres and start volunteering in the huge range of activities going on. In my experience voluntary work can give you an insight into the kind of work being done in a community learning context and allows you to see what you are interested in and if you would be suitable. My role is a little unusual as it is based in a hospital rather than a community learning centre, but it does demonstrate the variety of roles available in community education open to graduates.
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