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Gor 2024 / Learners

Published: South Wales Echo

A South Wales woman who earned her first ever learning qualification at the age of 59, despite the challenges of caring for her ailing mother and holding down a full-time job, has received a top accolade from Wales’ largest training provider.

Gaynor Pope from Blackwood has just secured the prestigious annual Outstanding Achievement Award from ACT, an organisation which trains no fewer than 9,000 people each year.

Having undertaken no formal learning since leaving school aged-16, a nervous Gaynor took her boss’ advice two years ago and signed up for a Level 2 qualification in Health and Social Care at ACT, determined to gain a recognised qualification.

ACT judges were impressed by her sheer determination to combine her studies with shifts as a support worker for adults and children with learning disabilities and days caring for her elderly mother who has dementia. As a result they chose her for the top title at the organisation’s 2014 annual Apprenticeship Awards

Gaynor spent her adult life raising two sons and working in a succession of low-skilled catering and care jobs before her boss at the Care Management Group suggested she gain some new skills and a formal qualification. Having been away from the classroom for so long, she also had to attend seminars to overcome literacy and numeracy issues.

Gaynor’s assessor at ACT, Annie Knapton, who nominated her for the award said: “Gaynor’s level of commitment was a real inspiration. She never complained and, despite what was going on in her personal life with her mother, was always cheerful and willing.

“She was hugely apprehensive about the course initially, but she really wanted to achieve and it’s that gritty determination which led me to nominate her for the award. The route to success wasn’t always smooth; Gaynor had to work hard in areas including application of number, but once she regained her confidence in those areas she really embraced it. This award couldn’t be given to a more deserving learner and we’re all very proud of her.”

Gaynor said: “When my employer initially suggested I enrol on a course at ACT it took me a while to come round to the idea. I had low confidence in my learning abilities and the idea of re-entering the classroom was extremely daunting – especially as I’d never really enjoyed school and left at 16 to enter employment.

“As well as worrying about how I’d fit in as an older learner, I was also worried about how I’d juggle a demanding course alongside full-time employment and caring for my mother. As it happened, the course actually enabled me to learn more about my mother’s disease, equipping me with knowledge that helped the way I approached her care.

“I was shocked and surprised to learn I’d won this award and my family are really proud. I couldn’t have done it without my assessor Annie, who became a great friend as well as a mentor. I learned so much about myself, including that the only person stopping yourself from taking on a new challenge is you. While my immediate focus is continuing to care for my mother, the experience has given me a whole new outlook on life and given me a thirst for learning I didn’t know existed.”

Gaynor was congratulated on her win by ACT Skills Ambassador Jonathan Davies who described her drive and motivation as: “A real encouragement to people and a reminder that it’s never too late to learn new skills.”