3 Feb 2023

Supporting the Community Learning Sector: Getting together in Derry

AONTAS met with representatives of more than 20 local community learning groups based around the Northwest, in a meeting at Northwest Regional College Strand Road campus in Derry/Londonderry on Thursday 26th January. Called ‘Supporting the Sector, Supporting the Learner’, the event focused on the crucial, person-centred support that community education offers.
Attendees at the NI Community Education Census meeting in Northwest Regional College, Derry in January

We had great discussions at the Northwest Regional College, where community learning groups and activists from across Northern Ireland came together to discuss common challenges and ways of working. 

The Power of Community Education

Whether it’s through a drop-in session or a short course, community education providers can focus on the mental health and social benefits of learning – as one participant put it, community education “tries to fix what others miss”. The discussion looked at what’s working well, what the challenges are, and the importance of securing sustained financial support for the sector. 

Recent Challenges

The cost of living crisis and the loss of European Union funding in Northern Ireland have made financial problems even more difficult. This affects learners in the community, and the groups that support them.

Participants at the meeting spoke about operating "heat hubs" for those who struggle to heat their homes, while sometimes struggling to meet their own financial costs.

AONTAS will shortly launch an "NI Community Education Census" to capture these kinds of experience, as well as the positive impact that community education brings to learners.

The findings will be shared with all Community Education providers to use for their own advocacy for adult learning.

It builds on the 2020 Community Education census conducted by AONTAS in the Republic, which happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The census helped inform the development of the Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund which has now become the Reach Fund and is an established support for community education in the Republic. 

Sincere thanks to everyone who joined and shared their experience at the meeting, and to our hosts at Northwest Regional College for their warm welcome and support. 

We'll launch the #AontasNIcensus in mid-Feburary and it will be open until mid-March 2023.

To find out more about the census, or to take part, contact Dr Eve Cobain, AONTAS Research Officer at