National Winners of AONTAS STAR Awards Announced

A programme supporting refugees to integrate into Irish society; a horticultural training programme supporting socially disadvantaged adults; and a fashion show supporting women at all stages of addiction recovery were just some of the winners at today’s AONTAS STAR Awards.

The STAR Awards are organised by AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation, as part of its annual Adult Learners’ Festival. They recognise outstanding work in adult education and took place today (06.01.2017) in the National Concert Hall, Dublin.

Six national winners were announced, including:
•SAOL Fashion Show: SAOL Works with women at all stages of addiction recovery in Dublin, and through the medium of fashion and music SAOL explored social and political history in relation to women in Ireland. Using clothes bought and upcycled from local charity shops, the students created outfits to represent each decade from the last 100 years and showcased their designs in a fashion show
•Mentor Support for Cancer Patients and their Families: Based in Belfast, this programme ensures that mentors who provide support to cancer patients and their families have the necessary skills and abilities to share their experiences in a meaningful way
•The Horticultural Local Training Initiative: This Cork-based initiative supports socially disadvantaged adults develop their personal wellbeing using nature
•The Epic Programme: This programme supports people from immigrant backgrounds, including refugees, to help them integrate into Irish society by finding employment or further training
•Irish Men’s Sheds Association: This project was successful for its work promoting learning across the country, giving men an opportunity to learn new skills encouraging others to take up adult learning courses in a range of subjects.
•Supporting Digital Inclusion Project: Part of the GO ON NI initiative, delivers free digital training in local community centres in Northern Ireland. The training is bespoke, and on completion, participants become ‘Digital Champions’ and go on and further support their own communities to improve their digital skills

Commenting on the award winners, Niamh O’Reilly, CEO of AONTAS, said: “Congratulations to all of the winners of the STAR Awards – they are fantastic examples of the range and diversity of learning options available to adults from all walks of life throughout Ireland. Adult learning is essential to both economic success and to personal, social and cultural development and the STAR Awards are a fantastic occasion to highlight and celebrate the positive impact adult and community education have on the lives of learners around Ireland.”

2017 marks the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) Year of Adult Education in Europe, to coincide with this the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival is adopting their theme of ‘The Power and Joy of Learning’.

Speaking at the event Gina Ebner, Secretary General of EAEA said: “This year is about bringing together European adult education organisations to demonstrate how adult learning can improve citizens’ lives and prospects in Europe, both on a personal and on a professional level. Ireland is known for its innovative adult learning programmes in particular community education and we are delighted that our campaign is kicking off with the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival.”

Kevin Hanley, an adult learner from the National Learning Network (NLN) in Raheen, Co Limerick, delivered a keynote address at the ceremony. Speaking of his experience of winning an AONTAS STAR Award with the NLN Soundscape Project in 2016 Mr. Hanley said: “Winning an AONTAS STAR Award was a brilliant experience for us – it gave us great recognition and the opportunity to highlight the valuable work of our group on a national level.”

The STAR Awards kicked off AONTAS’s Adult Learners Festival, with events taking place nationwide. There will be over 250 events taking place across Ireland, ranging from open information sessions on further education opportunities, free classes in a range of digital skills, and exhibitions of learners’ work.