I’VE been Co-Ordinator of the Lifelong Learning Festival since it began back in 2004, when the Cork City Development Board decided to run a pilot festival, and I was the lucky one chosen to organise a two day event. Since then I have overseen its growth year by year, so much so that in 2017 there are well over 600 different events to choose from, catering for all ages and interests.
The events, all free, include tours, talks, workshops, demonstrations, performances, taster classes, and a lot more. They take place not only in colleges and schools, where you’d expect learning opportunities, but also out in all sorts of settings, in community and family centres, on the river, the streets, in gardens, in all the library branches. This year for the first time there are visits to factories and businesses.
It’s been a very enjoyable 14 years, I’ve met great people all over the city who all year round run courses and classes, many of them in their local areas in community settings. What makes my role such a pleasure is hearing from people who have attended events how much they enjoyed them, sometimes how the experience has encouraged them to return to or take up learning.
Early on we adopted the motto ‘Investigate, participate, celebrate!’ That’s what the festival is about — encouraging people to find out about learning opportunities, to try something new, and most of all to celebrate the joy of learning. There’s no hierarchy of learning either — whether you are interested in learning karate, crochet, how to grow plants, or want to pursue academic study, all feature equally in our programme. Participants are a mix of state supported organisations, private colleges, individuals.
Over the years the festival has gradually broken down barriers and helped forge new relationships between communities and organisations. Our partnership with Féile an Phobail, the West Belfast Community Festival, is a great example. It sees people from both communities in the north take part in projects in Cork and groups from here visit Belfast, not only during festival week, but year round. Projects include mural painting and currach building. I’m particularly proud of that partnership.
You know that saying ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ — well, that came true seven years ago when Limerick followed Cork’s example and started its own Lifelong Learning Festival. It’s on at the same time as ours, and we’ve built up a great relationship.
We started to get some international attention when I spoke about the festival at the Global Learning Village run by Hume City Council in Australia in 2011, and afterwards Cork was invited to be one of the first members of PIE — PASCAL International Exchanges — which brings together organisations and individuals around the world interested in lifelong learning.
As a result Cork was invited to participate in the 1 st UNESCO International Conference on Learning Cities in Beijing in 2013, which I attended with then Deputy Lord Mayor Lorraine Kingston. Two years later at the second UNESCO Conference in Mexico City, Cork was presented with a Learning City Award, one of only three cities in Europe and 12 worldwide — that was a very proud moment. Next September Cork hosts the third UNESCO International Conference on Learning Cities — a direct result of the festival’s success.
International attention means that we are invited to conferences and other events. Members of our voluntary organising committee have represented the festival in Larissa in Greece, Espoo in Finland, in Taiwan, Hamburg, Glasgow, Belfast. So people all over the world have been hearing about Cork and our festival.
I’m quite often asked for advice about how to organise a lifelong learning festival and in 2016 Wyndham in Victoria, Australia, which I’ve visited, and Burnaby on the Pacific coast of Canada, started their own, acknowledging that they were inspired by us. For the delegates attending the UNESCO conference here in September I’m writing a ‘How to’ guide.
Everyone involved in the festival should be very proud — and not only because of the attention we receive from overseas. The festival belongs to the people of Cork, events during it are organised by those who offer classes and courses year round. It’s for all of us.
It’s aimed at making everyone aware of the huge range of opportunities there are to learn, whatever your age or circumstances. While many will seek qualifications, for others it is the pleasure of learning, the social aspect of spending time with people who share our interest, whether it’s to learn about our city and its history, its wildlife; learn a language, a skill, a craft; take part in a discussion... festival week offers over 600 choices. So go on — investigate, participate and celebrate during the 14 th Cork Lifelong Learning Festival.
Pick up a free printed programme from participants, libraries, City Hall or the Tourist Office on Grand Parade or read it online at www.corketb.ie