On the Road with the Community Education Network: the Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed (INOU) Learning Hub

29 Aug 2023
Lorraine O’Connor, our Community Education Officer, was on the road recently to meet with the staff at the Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed (INOU) Learning Hub.

The INOU team have been active members of AONTAS and the CEN for many years. On my visit, I met with Laura Pierce, Building Futures Local Training Initiative Co-ordinator, and Michelle Kelly, Shaping Futures Local Training Initiative Co-Ordinator. 

The Building Futures programme is a QQI-accredited programme with participants working towards a Level 5 major award in Community Development. The programme is aimed at unemployed people nationwide and seeks to include workplace internships, which will draw on participants life experiences to enable them to become community workers, peer educators, support workers and mentors

Learners from Shaping Futures holding colourful balloons in the garden at the INOU
The Shaping Futures programme is a QQI-accredited Level 4 programme, with participants working towards a Level 5 major award in Community Development.

The INOU Learning Hub is a state-of-the-art facility which has been provided by City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB). The learning space is modern and bright and has a welcoming feel. The two training programmes in operation have their own dedicated classroom with state-of-the-art IT equipment, new computers and interactive SMART boards. Laura explained that most of the equipment was bought using money they received from The Mitigating against Educational Disadvantage FUND 2022 (now, REACH Fund). 

Laura went on to tell me how vital the funding was in providing equipment that was fit for purpose, the interactive SMART boards make the learning experience far more participative, as everyone can get involved. The space also had a bright kitchen where learners can prepare food, and offers snacks. Laura and Michelle told me that many of their learners come from areas of extreme poverty – some are drug users, others are homeless – so creating a space where they feel safe and can get something to eat means that they can work on their programmes without having to worry about where their next meal is coming from. It was plain to see that not only is the Hub delivering programmes in community development, but they are also living their principles in terms of participation, empowerment, diversity, social inclusion, and anti-discrimination. 

The INOU Learning Hub is in a unique position in that they can offer their learners’ other external modules based on their needs. Laura explained that any request regarding learning that comes from a learner will be given consideration. Once the request is reasonable, linked to their personal development and where funding permits, they will try and access that training for the learner: “Anything we can do to enhance the outcomes for our learners we will try to facilitate.” 

It was clear to see the passion Laura and Michelle had for the learners. They talked about the learners as “the priority, they spoke of “the learners’ space”, and “the learners’ sense of belonging and ownership.” They focus on providing what the learners need to get where they want be. Laura and Michelle spoke strongly about the need to build relationships with learners – building trust is key. 

The team here also keep an open-door policy for former learners and people in the local community who are welcome to use the computers and printers when preparing CVs or making job applications. The staff also support them with this where possible. They also provide a small budget for participants to help them buy clothes for interviews and have worked with the Dress for Success Charity “Work Equal” campaign, which equips women with the clothing, competence, and confidence needed to enter or return to the workforce.  

The INOU Learner Hub embodies what we mean when we talk about community education. It puts the learner at the heart of the work they do. It recognises the diverse needs of learners and recognises the challenges many of the learners face in terms of social exclusion, poverty, homelessness, and addiction. It ultimately aims to find way to address those needs.  

They are clearly aligned with AONTAS’ principles of social justice, partnership, valuing diversity, and social inclusion. This is extremely evident through the work that they do every day. 

This blog is being shared as part of our #PutYourselfOnTheMap campaign, raising awareness of our new interactive map of community education centres and groups across Ireland. 

We want to tell everyone: Community Education is Here. 

Click here to find out more about our new Community Education Map and #PutYourselfOnTheMap today!

 This campaign is part of AONTAS' 2022-2023 project "Inclusive Recovery and Transformation: Adult Learning Post-COVID-19", as part of the New European Agenda for Adult Learning.