This paper explores the implementation of an innovative three-year (2017 to 2020) community learning initiative led by a partnership of third sector organisations in a district in the north of England. It explores the initiative’s arrangements for the design and delivery of a varied curriculum and assesses its impact on the lives of participants in a range of community learning activities delivered in diverse settings throughout the district. Around forty formal interviews were conducted with commissioners, providers and participants; informal discussions were held with more participants during thirty observations of community learning activities. The findings demonstrate how a person-centred approach engaged marginalised and vulnerable individuals (many of whom had struggled previously to engage in formal learning programmes) in learning activities. Examples illustrate the transformational potential of community learning in addressing the needs and interests of individuals, contributing to their progression towards higher level learning opportunities and the workplace as well as to enhanced social and emotional outcomes. As society emerges from the constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic, the paper foregrounds this kind of sympathetic community learning provision as a means of supporting the continued engagement and development of individuals likely to be further marginalised by the impacts of the crisis.


This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

Cite as

Purcell, M. 2022, 'Hope in ‘Catastrophic’ Times: Participants’ Stories of Nurture and Transformation from an Innovative Community Learning Initiative', Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 27(2), pp. 219-241. https://doi.org/10.1080/13596748.2022.2042906

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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