Learner Stories: Gaining the skills to get on with my life

Finding inspiration from learner stories we take a look at Resilience: Stories of Adult Learning. We share Olivias story and her own pursuit to achieve her goals and gain the skills needed to get on with her life.

Finding inspiration from learner stories we take a look at Resilience: Stories of Adult Learning and the examples of learner journeys and the role of lifelong learning and adult literacies as part of EU Vocational Skills Week.

Resilience: Stories of Adult Learning is supported by the Festival of Learning and published and edited by RaPAL (Research and Practice in Adult Literacies) and ACAL (Australian Council for Adult Literacy).

The following extract from Resilience: Stories of Adult Learning, originally edited by Tara Furlong and Keiko Yasukawa, has been shortened for the purpose and use of EPALE UK.


Olivia Watkins


My name is Olivia Watkins and I am twenty-three years old and I have Down syndrome.

I live in a flat by myself during the week, and I have two jobs. One is a voluntary job at my mum’s school, in the kitchens. I have done this for two years now, and I love it. My Kitchen Manager, Celia gives me lots of jobs to do, like cutting up fruit for fruit cups, icing sponges and preparing salads. My other job is a Kitchen Assistant at the University West of England. To get to my jobs I travel independently on a bus. On the weekend, I stay with mum and dad.

I went to New Siblands Special School in Thornbury when I was five. I left when I was eighteen. Then I went to Foxes Academy in Minehead, for three years. I wanted to go to Foxes because I love food and cooking and I wanted to learn new things, to live independently and to get a job. I got an NVQ Level 1 qualification for Food Preparation at Foxes, and lots more certificates for all my other learning.

When I left in 2013, I won the Outstanding Learner of the Year Award (now Festival of Learning) at Graduation Day. I was so proud and happy. Then, in 2014 I won another award. I was a Regional Award Winner for everything I had done since leaving Foxes.

Foxes Academy

A long time before I went to Foxes, my teacher at school sent a video home, about Foxes Academy, for me to watch with mum and dad. I really liked it and decided I wanted to go there when I left school. Foxes taught me how to travel independently and safely too.

In my learning, I had to work very hard, and pay attention and follow instructions. Sometimes I found this hard, but not often. I worked in the Foxes Hotel during the day and lived in a house with other learners afterwards. I never lived with strangers before, or lived away from home for a long time. I was very nervous at the start of Year 1, and I missed my family, but I got on with it and then I made new friends, and really enjoyed it. It took me a little while to learn what to do, but the staff were brilliant, and helped me if I had any problems.

At Foxes I did House-Keeping, Food Service and Food Preparation. I also had “Moving On” sessions every week. This helped me improve my reading, writing, maths and IT skills, so that when I left I could get a job, and be able to manage money and live independently. I took English speaking board qualifications to help me with my speech.

When I was at Foxes, I kept thinking about what I wanted to do when I finished my course. I kept telling myself to work hard and I knew I could do it. I worked in a real hotel kitchen which was really busy sometimes. But, I knew that staff were always there to help me if I got stuck or didn’t understand. There were lots of signs and symbols, words and pictures around, to help me too. The other learners were my friends and we all helped each other. We had a great time.

Going to college at Foxes gave me the skills I needed to get on with my life.

If I had friends that were talking about going to college now, I would tell them to definitely go. Go for it!

Read the full version here and the thoughts from both Olivia’s parents and Foxes Academy.


RaPAL is the only UK-wide organisation that focuses on the role of literacies in adult life. We promote effective and innovative practices in adult literacies teaching, learning and research; and support adult literacies practitioners and researchers. We enjoy engaging in debates that touch on English language and literacy, numeracy and digital skills across homes, communities and workplaces. Through our members, digital journals, conferences and fora, policy and advocacy work, we are active in Europe and have international links. We outline what we offer as well as how you can get involved.


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