Revitalising CWU education as residential training returns

Union Matters, Education, Equalities

‘First-class’ Leicestershire facility gets the thumbs up from leaders, learning reps and activists…

The full range of courses are now available for our reps at a new facility in a small village near Loughborough and CWU News was invited up last week, when CWU head of equality, education & development Kate Hudson was hosting a two-day event for regional lead ULRs (union learning reps.)

Speaking to us during a break, Kate said: “It’s great to have residential training back on the agenda for our reps. This venue, Quorn Grange, provides superb facilities in a secluded but accessible location where students/reps/visitors can focus on learning in a positive environment. The class rooms are modern and well equipped, with a large video screen which is great for presentations and an electronic flip-chart that’s really useful when we’re doing Q&A sessions – and the notes the tutor writes up can be sent direct to students’ laptops.”

The Grange, in the village of Quorn, is owned by the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) – a group of UK unions to which the CWU has recently affiliated. This means that, as well as the formal, class-based work, there is also the opportunity to meet other activists from different businesses and other parts of the country. Kate explained: “With this venue being owned by GFTU, there are also people here on training courses from other unions, which broadens the experience further. It’s really interesting, for example, that our postal or telecoms members could encounter steelworkers, educational psychologists, bakers or pharmacists here.”

ULRs on the course all expressed their approval of the learning centre – citing its facilities: “Better than we’ve had before, better facilities,” said Midlands Region lead ULR Steve Croke – accessible location: “For me, it’s just a two-hour train journey from Castleford, whereas it used to take five hours to get to Alvescot” said North East Region lead ULR Beverley Walmsley – and the broad range of visitors: “It’s good to have other unions here too – socialising with some of them is really good,” commented Welsh lead ULR Janet James.

Terry Henderson and Colin Fanning, Eastern and South East Region ULR leads respectively, praised the way the facility is run, explaining that all revenues from it are ploughed back into the organisation to help fund its activities. GFTU also rents out buildings it owns in the surrounding area, which further assists with sustaining its work.

Brian Parsons, ULR from North West Central Amal Branch was “really impressed by what the GFTU has done here,” describing the Grange as “an excellent learning environment and sustainable.” Brian went onto talk about the work ULRs had been doing over the couple of days they had been there, the year ahead and the need to revitalise training and learning after the disruption of the pandemic and the industrial disputes. And North Lancs & Cumbria ULR Paul Newsham explained how the classroom sessions had discussed course development and the updating of learning to keep pace with the changing needs of our reps, activists and members.

‘Really feels like a trade union place’

As regards the venue itself, Paul echoed many of the points made by others, saying: “The staff are great, the facilities are excellent and it really feels like a trade union place,” something that the visitor immediately notices from the many images on the walls. Many framed trade union banners and a numerous collection of enlarged black-and-white photographs from the 1984/85 miners’ strike – including John Harris’s iconic picture of a mounted policeman swinging his baton at a woman during the Orgreave police charge.

The morning session which CWU News was invited to sit in on kicked off with a detailed discussion which worked through improvements to the ULR training course and the class talked of how the regional leads support the individual ULRs within their branches. This was followed by a Revitalising Learning presentation from equality, education & development department policy advisor Paul Dovey.

With last year’s BT Group dispute having been settled and some progress being reported from the national negotiations with Royal Mail Group, there was some optimism emerging that there will now be some time and space for learning and training to expand among our reps, activists and members. In his talk, Paul touched on several different aspects of this, giving advice to the class about how learning can be accessed, promoted and essentially put back on the agenda, after a period in which everyone has, as one of his slides noted “had a lot of other things on their minds.”

Speaking with Kate Hudson again after the event concluded, she said: “Paul led a very positive session and this was really the main theme of this get-together – the need to revitalise learning right across the CWU. Our ULRs have a very important role to play in this, enthusing members to engage with this. If you are a CWU member interested in taking a course, please contact your branch ULR or regional ULR for details of what’s available in your region.

“And in terms of our reps, there’s a real priority now for ensuring all our workplace reps are enabled and encouraged to sign up for their courses. If you are a rep, we’ve got a full training programme for 2023. So please take a look at the prospectus, and if there’s a course you want to attend, please contact your branch as soon as possible.”