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'When you’ve never been told you’re good at anything, it’s hard to find confidence'

No matter what your experience of formal education, or your age, it’s never too late to return to learning, writes Anne Redmond.

GROWING UP IN 1950s and 1960s Wexford, I hated school. It filled my stomach with dread, and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I had dyslexia, a learning difficulty, which wasn’t understood and certainly wasn’t treated with patience at school.

At 14, I left school, and went to work in a local supermarket. I got married and then children came along.

My life was filled with dinners, school runs, and working. My only hobby was watching television from the safety of my sofa.

I realised I had no hobbies

Just over 12 years ago, the local shop where I had worked for years sold up. I lost my job. My children were grown up. I was at a complete loss; I felt vulnerable and scared.

My whole life to that point had revolved around working locally and providing for my family. This was the first time in my life when I looked inwards and realised I had no hobbies and a very limited social circle. I realised I didn’t really know myself at all.

What was I interested in? What were my talents? Was I even good at anything? When you’ve never been told you’re good at anything, it’s hard to find any confidence within.

Taking that first step

I live down the road from a centre called Access 2000, and for years I saw women coming and going -  I was curious. I knew it was a community centre of sorts but assumed it was for older ladies.

One day I saw a sign that they were holding an open day for people interested in what they do, so I bit the bullet and went along. Some of the women attending Access 2000 spoke about their experiences, and I realised they had gone through similar difficulties in life to me – difficult childhoods, a fear of school and a lack of self-awareness.

Inspired by what I heard, I signed up to a computer course. Despite my positive introduction the thoughts of going to a course brought back the nightmares of school. I needn’t have worried. The tutors were patient and I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t feel comfortable with.

The learning bug

That first computer course gave me the bug for learning – I wanted to learn more, and to find out more about myself in the process.

I had always enjoyed maintaining my garden, so I decided to take a horticulture course. As the course progressed, I started to see small but positive changes in myself. I started piping up in class, asking questions, sharing my experiences and thoughts.

My new-found confidence stretched to my work life. Just before I took that first step into Access 2000, I had started a part-time position at a local shop for the National Council for the Blind. Buoyed by my new-found confidence, I suggested that we decorate the window as part of the Festive Windows Competition as part of Wexford Opera Festival. I modelled the window on one of the operas, and the shop won the ‘Best Dressed Small Shop’ award.

I know now that I am good at something

Since I stepped into Access 2000 that first day, I am unrecognisable from the woman I was. I know now that I am good at something.

I’m good at communicating. I’m artistic. I have a skill for listening to and identifying with others in similar situations. This is thanks to the wonderful tutors and staff who treat every person who steps through their doors with respect and dignity. They are always encouraging us.

No matter what your experience of formal education, or your age, it’s never too late to return to learning. Take that first step and pop into your local community adult education centre – it could change your life.

Anne Redmond is a native of Wexford, and is a learner, volunteer, and member of the board of management of Access 2000 in Wexford


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