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The right to learn - the WEA and post war adult education

Workers Educational Association


Dr Malcolm Grady has worked in education throughout his professional career, as a teacher and later in educational administration. Now retired, he is an active adult education tutor for the WEA and contributes to the education programme for the Joseph Cowen Centre for Lifelong Learning, Newcastle

Anthea Lang was formerly Local History and Heritage Manager for Gateshead Council and, like Malcolm, is a WEA tutor and contributor to the Joseph Cowen Centre for Lifelong Learning, Newcastle. She has written six local history books and is a member of the North East War Memorials Project.


For those returning from the First World War, many found life more difficult than it was when they left. There were a number of reasons for this including unemployment as the boom years of the war were replaced by a trade slump. In addition, many women were reluctant to give up their jobs to men. Some sought the answer in adult education primarily provided by groups such as the Workers Educational Association and the settlement movement.  

By 1918, the WEA had only been in existence for 15 years but had grown significantly.  In July 1918, a new branch was opened in Weymouth, in Cambridge a study group of 22 was formed to study the social history of the Middle Ages, in Gateshead, a visit was arranged to visit Elisabethville (a Belgian colony in Birtley) and in Newcastle, a ramble was arranged to Swalwell.  

The end of the war brought in a period of reconstruction and no more so than in education and with the WEA, from 1919, a new basis of funding that guaranteed financial support for one year courses for 5 years. But did these deliver what was needed and how did they help those who enrolled? The presentation will explore the immediate post war years of the WEA and its role in the lives of those who returned.

(A joint presentation of approximately 20 mins)