This study used qualitative methods in order to evaluate the perceptions and experiences of people engaged in various 'lifelong learning' projects in a town in North-East England. These projects were accommodated within a variety of community settings: an established 'umbrella partnership' (operating within a Local Strategic Partnership framework) provided a forum for cooperation and coordination between the various public, community and voluntary sector service providers. Previous evaluations of lifelong learning approaches have focussed upon 'instrumental' outcomes such as skill acquisition and employability. This study attempted to capture evidence of less tangible 'secondary' gains such as friendship, social support, and gains in terms of 'social capital' and health and well-being. A series of six focus groups were conducted, and these provided the basis fot a further round of five biographical-narrative individual interviews. Thematic analysis of the focus group data revealed strong evidence of  personal growth that enabled participants to make positive choices when facing challenging life circumstances; and  participants gaining a positive sense of identity and belonging. Futher, provider organisations appeared to achieve these outcomes by creating the conditions for 'surrogate' roles and relationships to develop betwen people who typicaly faced challenging social circumstances and/ or had experienced significant individual loss. Many participants identified the pivotal role of provider organisations in giving their lives a sense of purpose and meaning. Participants' individual accounts were pervated by themes of 'struggle' 'survival' and 'normalisation', and typically pointed to a range of valid social identities that had emerged as a result in voluntary participation-most notably that of 'helper/carer' to others. Participants attributed the relative success of these organisations to the fact that they were simultaneously both 'formal' and 'informal' in their educational and therapeutic purposes. Initial engagement with group participants was typically on a 'non-instrumental basis', which, by design, appeared to shield 'learners' and service users from the burden of expectation. There is, however, also, evidence of the success of this strategy insofar as many participants built upon these 'non-instrumental' beginnings and went on to achieve markable skills for employment. In conclusion, there is strong evidence of individual gains, particularly in terms of 'bonding' social capital, health and well-being. More specifically, the authors assert that these projects represent a highly effective means engaging 'hard to reach' groups in lifelong learning. In some instances , the central role played by group membership in the lives of individuals arguably went some way towards ameliorating and/or preventing of significant physical/mental health and social problems.
|Place of Publication||Newcastle upon Tyne|
|Publication status||Published - 2010|