Activist Spotlight | Jenny Ford Life Long Learning Coordinator

Jenny Ford, Lifelong learning Coordinator and Joint Branch Secretary, Portsmouth Health branch. Facilities manager for Solent NHS Trust, based at St James’s Hospital in Portsmouth.

How long have you been a UNISON member?

Gosh I can’t remember! I think around 18 years!

How long have you been involved in member learning?

The same amount of time. I joined UNISON because of the member learning programme, to get involved in this.

What made you take this step?

I had to go to a meeting with a member of staff (I was their supervisor and was supporting them as a colleague). It was a performance management meeting, and the manager highlighted that the member of staff may have learning needs in literacy. It made me realise that a number of the staff I supervised were struggling to complete mandatory training, perhaps due to similar issues. Somebody from the UNISON Branch said to me that I should get involved in member learning, so I did!

What’s the best thing about being involved in member learning? Have you got any success stories you can tell us?

There have been so many over the years. This room (now Jenny’s office) used to be set up as a training centre, we had computers all around the room that staff could come and use to improve their digital skills.

For Learning at Work Week, I used to run events where we would invite all the local FE colleges to come in and promote the courses they could offer staff. Now I am Joint Branch Secretary, and there are several different NHS Trusts within the branch, I have scaled back what I can achieve. We do have other Union Learning reps within the branch though, and the NHS are definitely receptive to union learning on the whole.

Many years ago, I had a group of staff whose first language was not English. I developed a presentation to help them understand essential fire instructions, using pictures rather than words. There is so much you can achieve, and it’s so rewarding to do.

What would you say to someone who was thinking about becoming a Union Learning rep?

I can’t stress enough how very rewarding it can be. When you can help people, who couldn’t previously read or write, to achieve this, it’s really life changing for them. Being able to lift people into a better future through learning, it’s such a positive thing to do. If I hadn’t got involved in member learning, it’s unlikely I would have actually joined the union, if I’m honest! And now, I am really involved in the structures of the union, within my branch and at a regional level.

Have you got any plans for member learning in your branch at the moment?

Having met with the new RLDO (Regional Learning Development Organiser), Louise, we are going to look at how we can offer people a chance to improve their digital skills. The Trust recently said that everyone’s payslips were going to move online, and many staff within the trust don’t have access to a computer, they don’t use computers to do their job and don’t have one at home. I think sometimes office based HR and payroll staff forget that not everybody automatically knows their way around a computer. UNISON offer a course on ‘Making the most of the internet’, so it would be good to put this on in the workplace, as I think it will really help people in their everyday life as well as at work.

Looking at the branch as a whole, we also have a growing number of members working in the private care sector. They are hard for us to keep in touch with, so it would be good to offer some kind of member learning for them, either digital skills or perhaps something around dementia awareness, or mental health. We’re going to survey them and see what interest we get. I’m looking forward to it!