On the Road with the Community Education Network: the Women’s Community Projects Mullingar

29 Aug 2023
Lorraine, our Community Education Officer, was on the road recently to meeting with the team from the Women’s Community Projects in Mullingar, to learn more about the amazing work they do in the local community.

The Women's Community Projects in Mullingar has been in operation since 1984 and follows the work of the late Sister Finbar, who identified that many of the women in the community were living in poverty.  

She believed that to address this, these women would need educational programmes and support that would enhance their life opportunities. She set up classes in life skills, like cooking, budgeting, and sewing. As the demand for the programmes continued to grow, it quickly became apparent that for the women to participate fully, they would need childcare support.  A childcare group was set up and staffed by volunteers. The Programme was later formalised by FÁS (now SOLAS), as a back-to-work initiative.  

Lorraine with the team at the Women's Community Projects Mullingar
I met with Aisling Mortell-Beglan, the Programme Coordinator, Maureen Murtagh, the Development Officer, Paula O’Connor, tutor and Project Coordinator, and Laura Brady, the Childcare Services Assistant Manager.  

One big issue we discussed is the lack of affordable childcare options for people, especially women, who want to go back to education. Laura initially came to Ireland as a migrant and participated in a childcare programme in Mullingar.  She then went on to complete her degree and currently manages the childcare facilities on the project. She explained to me that the waiting lists for childcare places are long, and this creates a barrier for participation on programmes.  

Everyone agreed that the main barrier for people coming back to education is childcare. WCPM provide childcare, but the demand is so high that they cannot provide enough to meet it. Everyone agreed that State investment in childcare is crucial to enable people to fully participate in education. 

This programme empowers women in the community, while also recognising the need to support men. Theynow offer programmes for everyone, including courses on Community Health,  Business Administration, and Special Needs . They also offer training on Computers for Beginners, Upcycling and much more. A new programme under development focuses on digital inclusion.They also provide non-accredited programmes. The English for Speakers of Others Languages course in Yoga was one I found particularly interesting and innovative. The staff spoke about growing tensions about migration in the local community and created this programme to be inclusive for all communities. They designed this course as a way of offering a relaxed and welcoming activity that would help those who are new to the community to integrate, while learning a new skill and improving their English. 

Another major issue is funding. The team told me about how important they felt these programmes are. They work in multiple roles in the organisation and often work beyond their standard hours. This really highlights the commitment of the team.  

However, they all highlighted the insecure nature of funding in community education.  

One asked: 

“Why is community education not valued enough? It can change lives intergenerationally.”  

The team also spoke about the pressure that was imposed through the QQI re-engagement process and, while they all agreed it was a good learning process, it has also been stressful and draining.

According to Aisling Belgan-Mortell, the Programme Coordinator:

“We get to know [the learners] and help to address their needs. Its far more than education. We function as a referral service. Our learners understand this is a safe space, they trust us.”

The team told me about the positive impact that the Reach Funding has had on their organisation. Through this funding, they were able to highlight their work by making a promotional video, providing workshops, and revamping some parts of the building, ensuring a better environment for their learners.  

The team at WCPM are extremely dedicated and passionate. They go above and beyond to ensure services that promote community education and support their participants, and the wider community. 

At every level they strive and succeed to deliver quality services for their community and for anyone that has passed through their door over the years. We at AONTAS wish them every success and are proud to have them as our members. 

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.