Belfast is a learning city and joined the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities in 2018 with a commitment to using learning to tackle inequalities and to improve the quality of life for all its citizens.
A learning city promotes and celebrates learning and finds creative ways to encourage people to participate in learning at any stage in life.
Learning can transform lives; offering huge benefits for people and communities, whether that is learning for life, learning for education, learning for and in work or learning to live together.
(Belfast a Learning City)
The annual Belfast Festival of Learning is a demonstrable example of what a learning city can offer its citizens. The theme of the first festival (2016) was “Learning for All”, and aimed to “put people at the heart of learning”, inspire interest and enjoyment in learning and to encourage people to see themselves as learners, regardless of age or background.
The Festival combines a wide range of events from across a spectrum of learning; for example a rich mix of song, dance and arts which contribute to the understanding of health lives, including physical, mental health and emotional resilience plus broad ranging activity and events which focus on employability skills, the environment and respect for diversity in society which highlight the holistic nature of learning and its connection to health.
In 2020 the theme of the festival was “Using Learning to build Resilience”. with many events designed to help boost confidence and self-esteem, support people and families who may feel isolated e.g. people living with Dementia, those living in sheltered housing, people dealing with addictions, with poor mental health, families living in poverty and those often feeling disconnected from ‘mainstream’ opportunities.
Event organisers described the importance of showcasing opportunities which can improve quality of life and lead to stronger personal and social networks.
The theme of resilience been more important that during the experiences the on-going global pandemic. The benefits of a broad range of learning to health and well-being has been crucial to the covid response and recovery within our learning city, one that has learned to adapt and meet the needs of its citizens – particularly those already disadvantaged and disconnected from what the city had to offer.
Over 2/3rd of independent survey respondents had never previously engaged with the event organiser, demonstrating that the festival provides a great opportunity for providers to engage with new learners.
Event organisers were asked to contribute words or phrases that described their experience of the Belfast Festival of Learning:
Confidence and Empowerment
Evaluations have reflected a growth in confidence to try new things and engage in learning e.g. parents felt more empowered to get involved in their child’s learning as a result of an event at their child’s school.
People have been inspired to participate in new ways of building skills reflecting a greater potential to participate in experiences that transformed soft learning to hard skills for future use in life.