The 13th Adult Learners Awards, which champions Borderers’ achievement in learning, was held at a ceremony in Galashiels on Tuesday evening.
“The winners had remarkable stories to tell,” revealed the chairperson of the awards Veronica Blackwood.
“Some had left school without qualifications and wanted to try again, others had overcome enormous personal hurdles to achieve their goals. They all had one thing in common – they had taken on the challenge of learning, and had succeeded.”
Presenting the awards, the keynote speaker Helen Forsyth, chief executive of Berwickshire Housing Association, talked about “the difficulties we all face at times in our lives, and the need to try again – without allowing the fear of failure to stop us trying at all”.
Past winners also spoke of their own learning experiences, and offered encouragement to the winners of this year’s awards to keep going with their ambitions.
Mrs Blackwood, a judge on the panel, acknowledged how difficult it had been to make a decision about who received the trophy.
“Every one of the 36 nominees has an inspiring story – they have taken different paths, but they all have achieved a goal, and that is why they have been nominated.”
The judges decided the most inspiring story from all the learners belonged to Christina Dyson, who was named overall winner.
“More than anyone, she deserves recognition for her fortitude,” Mrs Blackwood said. “Christina had shown extraordinary courage and determination. Despite suffering a long illness and being wheelchair bound, she was determined to achieve her degree in business from Borders College.
“She fought hard to continue her college course throughout intensive medical treatment, and now intends to complete her degree to honours level, and find employment in the care sector.”
The Young Learner Award went to Siobhan McLean from Hawick.
“Siobhan had experienced a personal tragedy, leaving her confidence at rock bottom,” Mrs Blackwood added. “Joining the Community Learning and Development (CLD) Time 2 Chill group started to turn her around, and now she volunteers, works in groups, and runs the toddlers group at Burnfoot Community School. She has completed first aid courses, Parents as Early Education Partners (PEEP) practitioner training and is hoping to study further.”
Esther Ngoa, who came from Kenya to live and work in Kelso, won the Literacies Award.
“She was unable to read or write in her own language, as she had never attended school – girls did not go to school,” Mrs Blackwood said. “She has shown amazing commitment and perseverance in ESOL Literacies classes run by Community Learning and Development, and with ever-increasing confidence, she has learned to read, write and communicate in English.”
Jedburgh’s David Horder picked up the 50+ Mature Learner Award.
“After suffering a brain injury, David has found a new purpose. He has completed different types of learning – ‘Heads You Win’ course at Borders College, training to be a PAT Tester for ‘Home Basics’, and he is currently learning to play guitar – he has already performed at a Burns Supper!
“At the moment he is taking a mentoring course through Momentum so he can mentor other people who have an acquired brain injury.”
Two young entrepreneurs from Berwickshire, Kyle Wilson and Oscar MacAndrew, who used their learning to start a community radio station based in Duns, Generate Radio CIC, impressed the judges to deserve the Social Enterprise Award.
“Their desire and motivation came from a need to create something unique and of value, based in the local community, along with their strong passion for radio and music,” Mrs Blackwood said. “They are currently undertaking a course in leadership run by the Social Enterprise Academy.”
Lifeskills, a group of five young students with learning disabilities who run a cafe at Rowland’s Dry Bar in Selkirk every Tuesday, took the Group Award, while Health Champions, a Borders-wide group of volunteers aged 20-54 who encourage people to live healthier lifestyles, won the Voluntary Sector Award.
The night’s other winners included Hawick’s Danielle Johnstone (the Care Sector Award), Bartosz Walkowiak (SQA Award) and Cherday Wilson (Learning in the Workplace Award).
Mrs Blackwood concluded: “The winners all wanted to pay tribute to those who had helped them to learn, and tutors were invited to join their students in celebrating the success.”