Looking back from the crest of a wave
By Rhodri Evans (Education Manager)
As we approach the Christmas period, it’s inevitable that, in breaks to its wonderfully frantic rhythms, we’ll pause and reflect on this most unprecedented and tumultuous of years. And when we do look back at it all, I’d imagine that ‘change’ is the one word that will be associated with it the most. A small, big word. It’s a word which tilts towards the positive more often than not, almost always carrying connotations of ‘better’ – but in the context of 2020, change is a term that has also been thrust upon families, entering households uninvited, as the pandemic ripped the fabric of entire worlds behind closed doors.
In such circumstances, I suppose that one of the few ways of coping and carrying on is to seek some memory of the ‘normal’. As such, the way in which the majority of the population has become accustomed to new approaches has been remarkable – whether it involves working on a kitchen table that triples up as a desk and a classroom too, to how we keep in touch with our loved ones over a Zoom mosaic. Another aspect embraced by people is how they receive their education and maintain their interests; something the Welsh for Adults sector has seen happen almost overnight. Adapting to this sudden change in order to enable a semblance of a provision to continue occurred as a matter of necessity.
As a provider of residential courses, and one that considers the location and surroundings to be invisible members of each class we teach, having to cancel courses and close the site went totally against the grain. In the absence of the geographical location, it was necessary to continue to provide in the spirit of the Nant – a spirit that, as many of you know, in completely unique.
When I was appointed Education Manager in February, exploring the opportunities to develop digital and virtual elements to the provision was a strategic aim – but something that was going to be more of a long-term process rather than immediately essential. The spread of the virus during the first wave in April meant that the brick was well and truly dropped on the accelerator, far sooner than I had imagined, and soon enough, the sapling of a new provision emerged. Before offering a full virtual provision in August, our tutors had been hosting informal sessions with learners and had started to teach classes as part of the National Centre for Learning Welsh’s tremendous efforts to offer free courses to Entry level learners. This allowed the Nant to maintain its contact with learners and to remain at their sides as they continued on their language journey. The way in which our tutors have embraced the opportunities to deliver a virtual provision is an integral aspect of this year’s story and it’s great to see that this willingness to adapt is now paying off. The feedback from our learners regularly mentions that passion and care from our tutors are among the main reasons for the success of the courses.
Since August, we have been offering virtual three- and five-day courses, depending on the level of the course. To be able to do this, we needed to recalibrate our communication, marketing and registration methods and process. Despite the challenges, we have relied on each other for support and have managed to adapt successfully.
Our intention was to resume residential provision from November, but the second wave and its restrictions put an end to that. So, for now, we continue to offer a virtual provision. As we learn of the hopeful news of a potential vaccine and the public health measures beginning to take effect, it is heartening to hope that our residential provision will return – in some capacity – in 2021. Our Work Welsh courses will also return in virtual form between January and March and we hope that there will be opportunities towards the end of that period for us to hold some on-site, face-to-face sessions, too.
I’d like to thank all our learners for their patience, their understanding and their support during this unprecedented year. Their passion for learning the language, through whatever medium, has driven all our efforts over the past few months. My thanks too to the tutors, for responding to the challenges of adapting and continuing to deliver our provision, and to do so successfully. Being able to adapt in such a way means that Nant Gwrtheyrn is best-placed to face the next period in its rich history.
My best wishes to you and your loved ones over the coming months.