Two women who have transformed their lives thorough learning with Adult Education Wolverhampton have won national awards.

Getting back into the classroom helped Marie Smith go from being trapped in her home with severe depression, to returning to work and studying for a degree, and enabled Seong Chua overcome low self esteem and become an inspiration to her daughters.

Both have now received awards at last week's Festival of Learning organised by Learning and Work Institute and supported by the Department for Education, which celebrates the power of learning to transform lives and aims to encourage more adults to take part. 

Marie, who received the Learning For Health award, is a survivor of sexual abuse which had a significant impact on her life at school. She left without any qualifications and developed severe depression, which meant she rarely left her house, leaving her very isolated. 

Marie’s recovery began when she was referred to Adult Education Wolverhampton’s Like Minds pottery course by her psychologist. She realised that learning something that she enjoyed gave her a reason to get up in the morning. 

Marie’s self-esteem has grown, and she has had the chance to build close friendships. Her mental health has improved and she has been able to return to work. Marie is now studying for a degree in glass and ceramics at Wolverhampton University and aims to become a self-employed artist and work in the community to help others in a similar situation. 

Marie said: “Once I started learning I realised I wanted to overcome the burden of my past. Adult education has given me so much strength and determination. 

"My future is now bright; I know what I want in life and I know where my journey is taking me. I can actually say education has saved my life.”

Councillor Dr Michael Hardacre, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: "Various studies have highlighted the positive and long lasting impact that adult education can have on the mental health and wellbeing of people, and Marie's story is yet more evidence of this. Getting back into the classroom has transformed her life, not only helping her learn new skills and study for a degree but enabling her to get back to work, too. She is an inspiration for others."

Seong Chua, who received the English Language Learning award, found the courage to return to learning to show her daughters how empowering education can be.

Seong grew up in a traditional Chinese family in Malaysia and had been educated in a school which did not teach English. Living in the UK, with very limited spoken English, she felt misunderstood, isolated and lost and was at a low point in her life. 

But she was determined to be a good role model for her daughters and so enrolled on a level 1 English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class at Adult Education Wolverhampton. Seong is currently working towards level 2 English and is on a GCSE maths bridging course.

Returning to learning has transformed Seong’s life, and the lives of those around her. She now has the confidence to support her daughters with their homework and has become an active member of the school PTA. She volunteers for Adult Education Wolverhampton’s Talk English project, and as a Chinese teacher in Birmingham. Inspired by Seong, many of her friends have returned to learning. 

Seong said: “I wanted to prove that I am capable, strong and determined and that I can accomplish whatever I set myself to do.

"Learning has given me the chance to grow as an individual and have aspirations for a brighter future. I wanted to be a good role model to my daughters, and they say that they are very proud of me. This fills me with pride.”

Councillor Hardacre said: "Seong is proof that having limited spoken English skills need not be a barrier to success. By enrolling on an English for Speakers of Other Languages course with our Adult Education Service and improving those skills, she has transformed her life - and it is wonderful that Seong has also been a great inspiration to her friends, some of whom have also returned to learning as a result of her education journey."

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of the Learning and Work Institute said: “Marie’s story demonstrates how a ‘prescription for learning’ can have a life changing and profound effect on mental health. Learning has transformed Marie’s life and given her hope for the future. 

"Seong’s story highlights how important it is for people who are not proficient in English to have access to ESOL classes and demonstrates how the positive impacts of one person’s learning can extend right across families and communities. 

"Festival of Learning is all about the inspirational stories of people like these, which show that everyone can benefit from learning. Lifelong learning is vital for all of us as jobs and society change around us."

For more details about courses offered by Adult Education Wolverhampton, please visit Adult Education Wolverhampton or call 01902 558180.

Adult Education Wolverhampton is only one of 4 adult education providers in the country judged Outstanding by Ofsted. Inspectors commended it for its exceptionally high achievement rates, high quality teaching, excellent resources, good levels of support and for making learning enjoyable.

The Festival of Learning website is the biggest celebration of lifelong learning in England. Marie and Seong were among 12 award winners nationally selected from 250 nominations. All their stories can be read on the Festival of Learning website at Our Award Winners