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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



Adult Learning and Wellbeing Seminar at the Belfast Festival of Learning

by Colin Neilands
Language: EN

This seminar was part of the fourth Belfast Festival of Learning and was jointly sponsored by the Northern Ireland Impact Forum on Adult Learning and EPALE UK. The NI Impact Forum’s focus was examining the impact of adult education on different aspects of life and particularly the positive effect it can have on mental health.

‘Education gives you hope and control over your life.’
John Morgan, Belfast Recovery College



Speakers and their contribution  

Professor Olga Tregaskis from the University of East Anglia and the What Works Wellbeing team, presented on Adult Learning and Wellbeing: What Does the Evidence Tell Us?. She discussed marginalised groups, their access to fewer resources and how building these resources can have a big impact on lifelong learning.

We also heard from Joyce Black and Mark Ravenhall of the Learning & Work Institute speaking on Learning, Work & Health: Opportunities for Alignment, referring to the recent publication Learning, work and Health: the next 70 Years. The Learning & Work Institute places importance on lifelong learning and recognises this can take many forms. Speakers commented on the overlapping benefits of adult education with health and well-being; social, civic and community life; and employment and the labour market. They also discussed the Citizens’ Curriculum – a curriculum relevant to participants’ everyday lives – and evidence that informal learning allows for better social capital, active citizenship and confidence.

Peter Shields then presented on the work of a local voluntary organisation called NI Action Mental Health. Their vision is to create a society which values people and supports them on their journey to good mental health, and their mission is to make a positive difference to mental health and wellbeing. Shields introduced two of their clients who made a huge impact on the audience with their personal stories. Robert Shanks talked about his experience with Action Mental Health, how it provided him with the first steps for recovery and how it has enabled him to help others in need.

See this video of speakers talking about adult learning, health and wellbeing:

You can also access the video via this link:  



Organisation projects, programmes and reports discussed at the seminar

Action Mental Health
Workable (NI) Programme
A supported employment programme developed for disabled people with complex disabilities and many barriers to employment

Action Mental Health
Working it Out Project
A project that delivers specialist training and support to people recovering from mental health issues

Economic & Social Research Council
Wellbeing and Productivity Programme
Research focusing on employee productivity in the workplace and considering how wellbeing can have a positive effect on this


BFL seminar speakers

Healthy, Wealthy and Wise: the impact of adult learning across the UK
Learning & Work Institute
A report that reviews evidence of the impact of adult education within the themes of health, work and communities, presenting key messages from research papers and case studies

Learning, work and health: the next 70 years
Learning & Work Institute
A report that considers the work of the NHS over the past 70 years, how a different approach is needed for the future and how participation in adult education and employment can have positive health benefits

What Works Wellbeing
Work and Learning Programme
Draws research from scientific studies and analyses data from people and organisations to better understand participation in adult education and how it benefits wellbeing




Delegates discussed the implications for policy, practice and promotion in Northern Ireland. The focus of the day was on identifying actions for the delegates and for the Impact Forum in its advocacy role. A short report of the seminar and its conclusions will be published soon.


Colin Neilands

Colin Neilands is an EPALE UK Ambassador and the Director of Communitus Consulting. He established Communitus in 2014 to continue his core interests in adult learning and good relations. Previously he worked for 23 years as Director of the Workers' Educational Association in Northern Ireland. He helped found the Forum for Adult Learning NI in 2010 and continues to be its Chair. He also currently manages the Northern Ireland Impact Forum on Adult Learning and is contracted to help promote EPALE UK in Northern Ireland.



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  • Emma Zielinski's picture
    A really inspirational blog post from our EPALE Ambassador Colin Neilands! It's brilliant to hear of all the good work these organisations are doing, particularly NI Action Mental Health.