Two women who scooped national awards after transforming their lives through learning with Adult Education Wolverhampton attended a parliamentary reception to celebrate their achievements.

Getting back into the classroom helped Marie Smith battle severe depression, return to work and study for a degree, and enabled Seong Chua overcome low self esteem and become an inspiration to her daughters.

Both received Festival of Learning awards from the Learning and Work Institute earlier this year – and were invited to an event in London last week which brought together winners from around the country with parliamentarians and key figures from the education and skills sectors.

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. 

Her 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. 

Seong, 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 is a Chinese teacher in Birmingham. Inspired by Seong, many of her friends have returned to learning. 

After last week’s reception, Seong was invited to personally meet with HRH Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, patron for the Learning and Work Institute and an ambassador for lifelong learning, where she had the opportunity to talk about her story and the amazing impact that learning has had on her life and that of her family. 

She said: “I feel very proud to be one of the learners who was invited to a private meet and greet session with Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal at the basic skills event in Westminster. It was incredible to be amongst such inspirational people; a fabulous and cool experience that will be cherished.”

Marie added: "Going to the parliamentary event shows parliamentarians the importance of funding for adult education. It shows how learning transforms lives not only that of the individual studying but the fantastic impact it has on their family and friends too! I really owe my life to education. It gave me my life back."

Councillor Dr Michael Hardacre, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: "Adult Education Wolverhampton offers a great range of high quality academic and informal courses, whether you want to develop new skills or improve your wellbeing, confidence and self esteem – and Seong and Marie are proof that enrolling with Adult Education Wolverhampton can transform your life."

Adult Education Wolverhampton judged Outstanding by Ofsted was commended by Inspectors for its exceptionally high achievement rates, high quality teaching, excellent resources, good levels of support and for making learning enjoyable.

To find out more about what Adult Education Wolverhampton has to offer, attend one of the open days, visit Adult Education Wolverhampton or call 01902 558180.

The Festival of Learning 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 website.