Family Learning Award Winner
Nominated by: Cardiff and Vale College
Claire Gurton was just 22 when she lost the sight in one of her eyes. She didn’t know it at the time, but she was suffering with neuromyelitis optica (NMO), an autoimmune disease affecting the eyes and spinal cord.
Claire continued to work for another 20 years, until four years ago when her health deteriorated, and she made the difficult decision to leave her busy job at the YMCA. She lost the sight in her other eye and developed some mobility issues, deafness and tinnitus, all of which caused her to become anxious and lose confidence.
When her seven-year-old son Mackenzie’s school started advertising Families Learning Together classes, through Cardiff and Vale College, Claire was apprehensive. Seeing the classes as a positive way of helping Mackenzie, who has ADHD and other neuro development issues, to improve his concentration and keep up with his classmates, Claire persevered. Now, Claire and Mackenzie have completed 6 classes and are planning to continue learning together. Mackenzie’s teachers have noticed an improvement in his concentration and schoolwork, and Claire has a newfound confidence in her abilities.
She said: “Mackenzie was only recently diagnosed with ADHD so he’s getting a lot more help now, but before he was medicated, we really struggled to get him to concentrate. You can’t just teach him from a piece of paper, he needs to be actively engaged.
“He’s behind his classmates at school. Going to classes together seemed like the perfect way to help him catch up and bring me up to speed on what he’s learning so I could help more with his homework.” She continued: “I felt really nervous and anxious. I hadn’t done any learning in a long time, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it. And I didn’t know what impact being blind and deaf would have on my ability to take part. I asked my husband to come with us to the first class, but I felt so supported that Mackenzie and I and guide dog Peggy went on our own after that.
“We started with a Literacy and Number Skills course. We did eight during the first lockdown. I was shielding so it was great to have something to occupy our time. It was a bonding experience for us, and we learned tips and tricks to help with home schooling. In work, you get recognition for working hard. Every day you feel like you’re achieving something. When I stopped working, I lost that. Going back into learning has helped me in so many ways.
“I always thought I wouldn’t be able to do the same activities the other parents can do. Now I know I can, I’m much more confident and independent. I’ve made new friends and improved my own basic skills. I’m proud of what Mackenzie and I have been able to achieve.”