This year’s Festival of Learning award winners showcase the power of adult learning to change lives and inspire others to fulfil their potential

The Festival of Learning award winners for 2023 have been announced by Learning and Work Institute. The ten winners, revealed at an awards ceremony, include inspiring stories of adult learners, as well as outstanding adult learning provision, tutors and employers.


05 07 2023

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Festival of Learning has been England’s biggest celebration of lifelong learning for over 30 years. It is supported by Phoenix Insights, NOCN, The Education and Training Foundation, Skills and Education Group and City Lit. The Patron’s Award winner is chosen by Learning and Work Institute’s Patron, HRH The Princess Royal.

Each of this year’s winners shows the power of learning to transform people’s lives and ensure they fulfil their potential. Lifelong learning will be ever more important for life and work as working lives lengthen, the population ages, and our economy changes. The awards highlight this and aim to inspire more adults to learn throughout their lives.  

The winners are: 

Margaret Porta has been selected by HRH The Princess Royal to receive the Patron’s Award. Margaret gained new IT skills through tutoring with the Open Age DigitALL Project and successfully put together a digital campaign to promote her first ever art show. 

St Giles Trust has selected to win the President’s Award for their innovative London Peer Hub, a programme for training and supporting its clients to ‘turn a past into a future’ and achieve a Level 3 NVQ in Advice and Guidance – often the first qualification that they have ever attained. 

Emma Iliffe’s passion for Deaf culture and the Deaf community forms an integral part of her practice as a teacher of British Sign Language (BSL) at City Lit. Emma has been recognised with the Tutor Award, sponsored by the Education and Training Foundation.

Fakhra Irfan has won the English Language Learning Award. Fakhra spoke no English when she first moved to the UK and lacked the confidence to explore beyond her home environment. When her husband died shortly after she gave birth to her third child, adult learning paved the way for her journey to independence.

Fircroft College has been selected to win the Learning Provision Award. As one of only two adult residential colleges in England, Fircroft provides a safe and welcoming environment for learners who are furthest from the labour market, and who often have multiple and complex needs.

Geoff Carter has won our Learning for Work Award, sponsored by NOCN Group. After an extended period of unemployment followed by a family tragedy, Geoff was proud to secure a role with the HS2 project. His construction training not only brought him skills and qualifications, it also empowered him to show his children what a good working life looks like.

Jackie Butterworth was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2013 and had a stoma fitted the following year. She has been awarded the Learning for Health Award after attending support groups and courses with the WEA helped create sense of control over her life. Jackie has now set up her own group to support others going through similar challenges.

Jason Richards was recovering from severe brain damage and years of homelessness when he found training opportunities through Newground Together. Jason has received our New Directions Award, sponsored by Skills and Education Group, after his success in learning led not only to an offer of work, but the chance to reconnect with his family.

Originally founded as a sheltered workshop to provide meaningful employment and training for adults with disabilities, since 2021, Nuneaton Signs has offered supported internships for young people with special educational needs and disabilities in partnership with North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College (NWSLC). They have been recognised with our Employer Award, sponsored by NOCN Group. 

Tyrese Williams has won our Return to Learning award, sponsored by City Lit. Tyrese found school extremely challenging and left without any GCSEs. Everything changed with her referral to First Steps to Learning course at Buckinghamshire Adult Learning, a course aimed at developing English, maths and digital skills for young parents. 

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive at Learning and Work Institute, said:
This year’s Festival of Learning award winners are truly inspiring. Their stories demonstrate the many ways adult learning holds the key to improving people’s job and career prospects, increasing health and wellbeing, widening participation in society, and much more besides. I warmly congratulate every one of our winners and know they will inspire more adults to transform their lives through learning. Economic and social changes mean we’re going to need to keep updating our skills throughout our lives. Yet government investment in learning is set to be £1 billion lower in England in 2025 compared to 2010, and participation in learning remains unequal. This holds back economic growth, our ability to meet net zero targets, individuals’ health and wellbeing, and social justice. Lifelong learning offers endless possibilities. Our award winners help make the case for a step change in our ambitions here.
Catherine Foot, Director at Phoenix Insights, said:
The stories and lessons that the Festival of Learning offer us can play an important role in inspiring and creating the culture of lifelong learning we so urgently need. The experience of reviewing all the nominees for this year’s awards was incredibly moving. I was humbled by the stories of great courage, of persistence, of such passion and commitment to learning, and such life changing results, and I warmly applaud all the nominees and winners.
Graham Hasting-Evans, Chief Executive at NOCN, said:
NOCN Group is delighted to be working in partnership with Learning and Work Institute to support the 2023 Festival of Learning Awards. Many of the learners shortlisted for these awards have benefitted from direct and effective support provided by compassionate organisations that firmly believe in the ability of their learners to achieve their goals. It is a partnership approach which delivers results.
Katerina Kolyva, Chief Executive at Education and Training Foundation, said:
We are pleased to continue our sponsorship of the Tutor Award at this year’s Festival of Learning. The transformational impact tutors, trainers and educators have is not limited to learners. It extends beyond the learners to their families and communities. In a world where we are all contending with diverse and rapidly-evolving challenges—ranging from the accelerating impact of technology on work to a cost-of-living crisis—this has never been more important.
Paul Eeles, Chief Executive at Education and Skills Group, said:
Here at the Skills and Education Group, we have been proud supporters of the Festival of Learning for several years. Each year, we sponsor the New Directions Award, which highlights one of the best things about lifelong learning—it allows people to make a fresh start and follow a new path. Life can lead you in unexpected directions, and continuous learning is vital to taking the opportunities that come your way.
Mark Malcomson, CEO at City Lit, said:
We are proud to support the Festival of Learning, which plays an invaluable role in ensuring that lifelong learning is recognised for the vital contribution it makes in transforming people's lives on a professional and personal level. People coming back to learning at any point in their lives is something to applaud. The knowledge, skills, joy and fulfilment they gain is something that changes and improves lives immeasurably.