On the Road with the Community Education Network: Women’s Collective Ireland

29 Aug 2023
Our Community Education Officer Lorraine O’Connor was on the road recently to visit Women’s Collective Ireland (WCI). WCI are committed to working with grassroots women to address their diverse needs through the communities they work with using a community development model locally and nationally.

WCI’s vision is an Ireland where women in all our diversity flourish. WCI are active members of AONTAS and the CEN for many years.  

I met with Vivienne Glanville, the National Programme Coordinator in WCI’s head office in Neilstown, to discuss their work. Vivienne explained that WCI originated over 35 years ago and currently have seventeen projects in operation throughout Ireland. They provide community-based education and training underpinned by feminist theory. At the time of my visit, they were just finishing work on a library filled with books on feminism. 

WCI are committed to the principles of social inclusion and equality for all their members. Their programmes, such as the Step for Employment programme, includes elements that promote and support equality, such as the inclusion of childcare supports.  

At Women's Collective Ireland
WCI-Ronanstown runs a training and development programme including education and awareness raising programmes, health and fitness programmes, community workshops and access to third level outreach studies. They are currently piloting a Level 7 Women Gender, social Justice in gender studies in partnership with UCD. They also offer creativity classes, community development and leadership programmes, English as a second language, creative writing/reading groups, and programmes designed to support adults dealing with stressful situations. The learners are fully supported in an inclusive learning environment.  

Vivienne then took me to Ronanstown to meet Sinead Mahon, the Programme Coordinator, and the team. This is where most of the programmes are conducted. What struck me was the warmth and communal feel to the place, more like a home environment, with a large open-plan modern kitchen that spread out to a large garden with a learning space where the women can work in pleasant weather. In addition to this was a large garden with herbs and flowers created and tended to by the women’s group. The surrounding space led to a feeling of tranquillity, peace and belonging. Just the type of environment WCI want for their learners and very appropriate for those learners who may be experiencing stress in their lives. 

The passion of the team was evident, and what I found so powerful was that all the staff had started as learners, and therefore had a deep insight into learners’ experiences. In addition, it also served as an example as to what can be achieved through education.  

This we all agreed is one of the core strengths of community education as many of us working in the sector started as learners on programmes. We understand how vital these services are and the positive impact they can have on individuals, families, communities, and society.  

Another positive aspect of the work in WCI- Ronanstown  was the fact that their outreach worker actively goes out on foot each day building connections with the community and telling people about what is available to them. This really compounds the ethos of WCI in terms of an open space for the community, where all learners are welcome.  

I believe the core values of AONTAS and WCI are intertwined through the AONTAS vison for all adults to achieve their educational aspirations through an equitable lifelong learning system. This collective vision is embedded in principles of social justice partnership, supporting social inclusion, valuing diversity, advancing equality and feminism.  

Click here for more about WCI in Ronanstown 

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.