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EPALE - Platforma electronică pentru educația adulților în Europa


Turning community lifelong learning centres into one-stop shops with the help of multidisciplinary teams

de Andrew McCoshan
Limba: EN
Document available also in: CS HU FR EL

/ro/file/community-lifelong-learning-centreCommunity Lifelong Learning Centre

Community Lifelong Learning Centre


Dr. Paul Downes, Director of the Educational Disadvantage Centre in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University, Ireland, shows why we need more one-stop learning centres to act as gateways for communities facing socio-economic exclusion or marginalisation.


More imaginative and flexible approaches are needed to engage marginalised and alienated individuals and groups across Europe. The urgency of this task is evident from the fact that in 2015 64 million people, more than a quarter of the EU population aged 25-64, left initial education with at most a lower secondary education qualification. All people must be given a meaningful stake to participate in society.

To engage marginalised groups, Europe needs to put greater emphasis on a community outreach approach. The policy priority of this is for social inclusion and active citizenship goals, as well as for peace and stability requirements.

Put simply, inclusive societies where people feel they belong are more stable, and the injustice of poverty needs to be confronted.


Community lifelong learning and multidisciplinary teams

A key emerging support for inclusive societies is to combine two well-established approaches, community lifelong learning centres and multidisciplinary teams. Bringing these together into one-stop shops in a common community-based location can harness their distinct strengths for further synergies and benefits for marginalised individuals and groups. This approach was the core theme of a recent Romanian EU Presidency Forum, led by the Lifelong Learning Platform and Cedefop, and addressed in our briefing paper for this event.


One-stop shops need to be gateways

We are proposing a gateway principle for these one-stop shops where the community outreach lifelong learning centres engage with a wide range of young people and adults in areas of high socio-economic exclusion; and within this group, those with more complex needs requiring multidisciplinary team services can gain further supports. Of the wider groups attending community lifelong learning classes, a smaller number of marginalised youth and adults will have more complex needs, such as mental health, trauma difficulties, adverse childhood experiences, bereavement, substance abuse and addiction, experience of domestic violence, bullying, abuse etc.

Community lifelong learning centres typically focus on non-formal education, though they can combine both non-formal and formal education approaches. Youth art projects are frequently offered. Such centres are well established in a range of European countries and offer a welcoming, non-threatening educational environment centred around the needs and voices of the learner.

These lifelong learning sessions start from where the learner is, and tend to engage with the learner’s life experiences.


Providing access to holistic services

As part of a community outreach approach, these centres are in accessible locations in the local community. These locations are accessible both in terms of physical proximity and in terms of being a place where learners feel they belong. This is especially important for learners from marginalised and minority groups.

Community lifelong learning centres act as gateways to support services from different disciplines which are located together as holistic teams in the same place (co-location). This approach means people attending lifelong learning sessions may receive additional support if needed, such as emotional counselling, family support, etc.

Their needs are viewed holistically, combining educational, mental health, wellbeing and physical health supports.

Specialists in such multidisciplinary teams can include, for example, emotional counsellors/therapists, social services, youth services, outreach care workers, psychologists, nurses, speech & language therapists.

Other key features of a combined model as a one-stop shop are:

  • Continuity of support over time, flexible levels of support, programmes tailored to levels of need
  • Outreach: reaches groups missed by pre-packaged programmes, including through home visit family support outreach
  • Drop-in dimensions
  • Peer supports over time
  • Going beyond 'passing on bits of the child' so that referrals of families and children can take place within a team-based approach in a common location to help address the fragmentation of the existing support services
  • A focus on establishing relational spaces.


Building spaces where relations of trust can be built

This approach to promoting environments as relational spaces of trust can help reduce stigma in accessing, for example, mental health and emotional counselling supports. It can also help bridge the divide between services and groups who may tend not to access such services. Word-of-mouth recommendations from peers can help open alienated communities to services in a climate where there may be much distrust of ‘the system’. These community-based centres offer a key opportunity to engage those more vulnerable adults with services meeting their needs, in an environment where they already feel at ease and a sense of belonging.                                

In communities experiencing high levels of social and economic exclusion, there need to be neutral spaces where a range of groups can feel comfortable; professionals may not often be aware of local mindsets, territories and divisions with regard to location. Key benefits of this gateway and co-location approach are shown below.

/ro/file/benefits-gateway-co-location-approachbenefits gateway co-location approach

benefits gateway co-location approach


One-stop shops need supportive policy and funding

Funding for such one-stop shops will require more joint strategic planning between ministries such as education, health and social affairs across Europe, where it is evident that there is often a lack of coordinated strategy in this area. It also offers opportunities for making use of shared public infrastructures to their best potential. With rising rents in many cities in Europe, local services may be able to save on rental costs through being placed in one common location.

Funding strands such as Erasmus+ and the European Social Fund (ESF) need to play a key role in supporting the expansion of these one-stop shops, building on local community services, together with increased national ministry and local municipality commitments to support this vital strategic area for inclusion.

Dr. Paul Downes is Associate Professor of Education (Psychology) and Director of the Educational Disadvantage Centre, Institute of Education, Dublin City University, Ireland. He has been a member of the EU Commission’s European Education and Training Expert Panel (2018-19) to support the EU’s post-2020 Strategic Cooperation Framework for Education and Training.  Paul’s other blogs on EPALE address the need for assertive outreach strategies; ways to improve prisoner access to eduction; why we need to be careful in using SMART outcomes in adult learning; how to develop a European approach to high quality family learning; and the need for structural indicators to act as a bridge between top-down and bottom-up approaches in lifelong learning.

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  • imaginea utilizatorului Erdem Vardar
    How relevant! We at YUVA ( have established in 2013 the first Community Centre for Syrian refugees and the host community in Turkey with the same principle and question: Can we combine adult education and protection services under the same roof. The answer is 'Yes' and it works. Soon our education services had to be extended to children as well. We will hopefully be able to prepare a handbook of this good example by the end of 2019. 
  • imaginea utilizatorului Rumen HALACHEV
    Hi Erdem,

    This sounds great, thank you for sharing your good practice example with the community. When you get some more concrete results from your activities, we would love you to share these on EPALE. Keep in touch. :)

    Kind regards,