1 Mar 2023

Supporting Social Inclusion at the AONTAS STAR Awards

AONTAS STAR Awards 2023 hashtag STAR Awards 2023

The STAR Awards recognise the very best in adult learning in Ireland. We celebrate and acknowledge the incredible adult learning initiatives going on across the country, in support of learners, as part of the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival.

This year, there are 26 fantastic shortlisted initiatives. We’ll announce the winners at a special ceremony in Dublin on Friday 10th March – an exciting event to finish our 2023 Adult Learners’ Festival!

The shortlist is divided into five categories of adult learning initiatives that support people with:

The STAR Awards is judged by an independent panel of educators, policymakers, adult learners, and other adult learning experts. Let’s take a closer look at the shortlisted initiatives for the category of Social Inclusion.

This category, which is sponsored by Open College Network Northern Ireland, is open to adult learning initiatives that support people to be included in and contribute to social and cultural life in their local communities.

To reflect the range and high calibre of the shortlisted groups, we have two awards in this category – one for smaller and one for larger initiatives.


Here are the nominations for the small/medium-sized initiatives:

Secret Street Tours in Dublin

Founded in 2018, Secret Street Tours are a non-profit social enterprise that offer a new way to discover the streets of Dublin: through the eyes and experiences of tour-guides who have been affected by homelessness themselves. The street tours are developed by guides who share their stories as the group explores the cultural and historic landmarks of Dublin. The guides have the skills, confidence, and experience to offer tour-goers a way to engage with one of Dublin’s most pressing social challenges. A steady flow of schools taking the tours means that important issues – such as what it means to be homeless and why someone might end up without a home – are highlighted to students from across the city and country.


Polytunnel in Primary Schools Project (PIPS) in Westmeath

During the 2020 lockdown, Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board (LWETB) organised a small project that helped DEIS schools to continue to engage with families: providing primary-school children with seeds and pots, as well as literacy and numeracy worksheets. Given the success of this, LWETB decided to offer a polytunnel project for four DEIS schools, with parents and children working together to learn about the use of plants for food and the environment, and where adults could attend classes with a Horticulture tutor. In one school, as part of learning outcomes for their own Level 3 work portfolios, a group from the local army barracks laid paths and made raised beds. This model was replicated across all four sites. PIPs provided an outlet for parents to take part in a creative and productive endeavour, and fostered the integration of different cultures and backgrounds. At the same time, the project also helped learners to develop literacy skills and enhanced team-building and collaboration.


Digi Money from Advice NI in Antrim

Digi Money helps people seeking refuge to develop skills in using the internet and online services, which can help improve the quality of their lives both economically and socially. Digi Money trains people who can speak another language in addition to English to be Digital Champions, each gaining an Open College Network NI Level 2 qualification. The initiative provides each participant with a tablet to keep, and the participants volunteer a minimum of five hours’ digital skills training to others. Once qualified, the Digital Champions – who know the learning needs of their own communities – work in pairs to deliver digital skills sessions. Since starting in 2021, the initiative has trained 30 Digital Champions, who have delivered 12 sessions to 76 learners in their own communities.

Here are the nominations for the large initiatives:


New Futures Online Employability Programme in Dublin

New Futures supports and enables lone parents to take advantage of training and development opportunities while balancing their roles as parents. The main objective is to support lone parents who are outside of the labour market to be more included socially, and to gain more confidence and self-belief. Originally delivered in person, the training moved online from 2019 to 2022, which meant it could reach parents across the country who might otherwise not have access due to where they live. Keywork is integral to the programme and ensures that learners can have a personalised action plan, as well as space to reflect on what they hope to achieve. A comprehensive needs assessment ensures that the programme content can be adapted to suit the needs of each group and each individual.


Generation Ireland

Generation Ireland is a training and employment charity founded in 2020 with a mission to prepare and support adults of all ages to access careers that might otherwise be inaccessible. Programmes are oriented around the skills that employers need, using a curriculum that supports the needs of a diverse group of people. Learners are recruited based on motivation and take part in 8- to 12-week “online bootcamps”. Learner-centred mentorship and employability training are embedded throughout the bootcamps and for six months afterwards, and learners are matched with pre-confirmed employers for job interviews. The programme has supported over 250 diverse learners across Ireland, with 75% in full-time employment three months after completion of the programme.


Workability - Providing Transferable Skills for Flexible Employment, from An Cosán in Dublin

Since 2019, An Cosán has delivered “Workability”, which aims to address problems of low education and high unemployment in underserviced and marginalised communities. Workability promotes equity of opportunity and access to employment using a three-pronged approach that combines Education, Career Coaching, and Employment Outreach. Learners engage part-time, where they live, in a supportive learning community provided both face-to-face and online. A particular benefit to learners is the provision of wraparound supports such as child-care, digital skills enhancement, flexible part-time learning, mentoring, and an informal community-based setting. In 2022, an evaluation of Workability found that it equipped learners with the foundational skills needed for employment, and an improved sense of self-worth about their career, parental competence, and general psychological wellbeing.


Because the STAR Awards ceremony is focussed on the nominees, particularly the learners, it is an invite-only event. But we'll be sharing the ceremony as it happens on our social media, and spotlighting the winners. 

Find us on or on TwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIN for the latest updates.




About the Festival

The Adult Learners’ Festival, happening this year from 6th to 10th March, is a nationwide celebration of adult learning. It offers organisations and groups the chance to promote the value and benefits of lifelong learning for communities, families and workplaces. It is a chance for groups to reinforce existing partnerships in the community, and to establish new ones. This year’s theme is Create Your World – because life is not about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself. Visit this page for more details about the Festival

For more information, contact Charis Hughes, Head of Communications at