From the TUC

Mark’s union learning has impacted his whole family – #heartunions

14 Feb 2017, By

8th – 14th February 2017 is #heartunions week, celebrating the great work unions do, and paying tribute to the reps who are an important part of that. The Unsung Heroes series is running all week, sharing stories from reps and members about how being part of their union has impacted their lives.

Mark Church had life-long difficulties with reading and writing, and how he finally overcame these as an adult learner thanks to the support of his union. To Mark, improving his Essential Skills has been nothing short of life changing. He describes it as, “like being let out of cage.”

Mark left school without being able to read or write confidently and spent most of his adult life just ‘getting by’ or avoiding situations where he could be exposed. “I couldn’t pick up and read a book or a newspaper like other people. I also had great difficulty with writing.”

Years after leaving school and now in his 40s, Mark was redeployed from his manual role into a more technical role and he realised he could no longer avoid confronting the problem.

“I realised I would no longer be able to get by with the skills levels I had…. I panicked.” It was then that he turned to his union learning rep for support. The union arranged one-to-one training to help Mark improve his Essential Skills, for which he has now gained recognised qualifications.

In speaking out, Mark has helped to lift some of the perceived stigma that is sadly often still felt about adult literacy and has also raised awareness of how unions can support members with Essential Skills needs. This is particularly important as many people are not comfortable talking to their employer about literacy issues but may feel more confident confiding in a union rep. As many as one in ten adults in Wales have a literacy level below Level 1, many still feel a sense of stigma around this issue and are reluctant to talk openly about it. Many people do not know where they can go for support. Mark was lucky to be in a workplace where both the union (GMB) and the employer D?r Cymru, were active in supporting members to access Essential Skills training and support.

It is a testament to how far he has come that Mark is now a confident public speaker. Two years on, his enthusiasm for learning is still infectious.

“I feel like a new person – it is just one of the best things I’ve ever done. It has made such a difference that I am now able to read and understand text clearly. I am now able to complete the forms I need to do at work without a second thought when previously I would have struggled.”

As well as a huge boost to his confidence at work, Mark says the positive effects of the courses have been felt at home by his family too.

“It has given the whole family more confidence to go on and get a better education. My wife now goes to college and I have been able to help her with the course. I am also able to help my daughter with her homework and offer advice on writing ideas, which previously I would never have done. For example, I was recently able to help her with a project about life in the 1920s, getting her to think of ideas for different ways to describe things that people might have seen, heard and smelled to bring it to life. We have now seen her school grades improve.”

Not only is he keen to learn more himself and to help his family, Mark has now volunteered as a GMB Union Learning Rep so he can help other colleagues in his workplace access learning opportunities.

“I never would have had the confidence to do a role like this previously but now I feel that I know I can do it if I try, and I won’t give up. My experience is proof that it really is never too late to learn new skills. I’m now happy to go on a new course even if I don’t know anyone. Thanks to the courses I’ve met lots of new people and made new friends. I’ve got so much more confidence and the qualifications I’ve gained have opened up new opportunities for me.”

Mark is now working with GMB colleagues to organise learning opportunities for colleagues in his workplace.

The big aim for #heartunions week is to encourage more people to join a union. Please share this page with friends, colleagues and neighbours. If we each get one person to join a union this week, we’ll be well on the way to getting a better deal for working people all year round.

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