How to access lockdown learning

One of the benefits of your UNISON membership is access to a whole host of free training and education. There really is something for everybody – and what better time to try something new. Kathleen Jowitt from UNISON’s education team tells us more…

UNISON learning rep Jayne Barry decided to lift people’s spirits by organising a Christmas wreath-making course online for members across Derbyshire.

Some things had to change, obviously: “This was the second time we had run this course, but the first time online,” explains Jayne. “I have to say I was very apprehensive as to whether it would work, but there was no need, it all went fantastically.”

With 100 members from different UNISON service groups attending, the course was a chance to meet other people as well as to relax and de-stress. As one participant said: “It was fun, sparked my creative juices and was such a boost to my mental wellbeing.”

Looking forward, the new year prompts us to consider new possibilities, to make changes and to look into the future with hope. UNISON member learning can help you do that in 2021 and, as this example shows, it’s not always the traditional idea of learning or courses.

Taking care of yourself

“Training and development is a great way to keep your brain active and your spirits up,” explains UNISON learning and workforce development officer John Finnegan.

First and foremost, staying engaged and motivated, and avoiding burnout, means taking care of yourself. In the South East, a new year self care webinar series helped members do that, covering topics from Dry January to difficult conversations. The region also aims to hold a series of meditation and guided meditation sessions through the year.

Says South East regional learning and development organiser Abbey Dunn: “Members of UNISON have been key in keeping the country going for the last year, which has caused a huge amount of stress and worry felt across all service groups. Meditation is proven to help lower stress levels and re-focus energies.”

Financial wellbeing is just as important, with lots of members struggling financially. The South East’s self care webinar series includes a session on debt and budgeting.

Meanwhile, UNISON West Midlands has organised an online managing stress course. A course can’t eradicate stress, but it can help you to manage it better.

The union is also hoping to work with Cruse Bereavement Care to run more bereavement awareness sessions this year. While many of our members in the healthcare and social care sectors are likely to be accustomed to witnessing the deaths of patients and residents, and to processing their own feelings of grief and bereavement, the sheer frequency and distressing nature of deaths due to COVID-19 make this particularly difficult.

Time for a change?

If you’re looking to make changes this year, look out for Your Skills, Your Future workshops. Delivered for us by the Workers’ Educational Association, these have been popular for a while, along with the confidence-building Power To Be You. Or find the Value My Skills app on the Unionlearn website. UNISON North West is offering a confidence-building webinar for women while UNISON Cymru/Wales has regular sessions on topics including resilience and change.

We also offer a range of member learning opportunities to help you progress in your career. For example, UNISON East Midlands is looking to run IT courses for members. And this spring UNISON Northern Ireland is holding webinars on Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) professional accounting and record keeping, and managing challenging conversations.

If you’re looking at changing your career entirely, a great place to start is our Get That Job workshop. The South West has an introduction to interview and presentation skills course running next month.

‘Every region has its own unique programme’

Since the autumn, we’ve also been able to offer our popular Open University workshops online. Aimed particularly at UNISON members working in schools and social care, these cover topics including managing challenging behaviour, mental health awareness, dyslexia awareness and dementia awareness.

For those who prefer to learn at their own pace, our Skills Academy offer includes over 600 online courses. Themes include administration, IT, finance, health and safety, human resources, and teams and management. A certificate is provided on completion of each course so that you can show evidence of your learning. Accounts are free for UNISON members – just email quoting ‘Skills Academy’ in the subject line.

In short, there’s loads of training available for UNISON members. Every region has its own unique programme, so get in touch with your regional education team to find out what’s going on near you. Visit or call UNISONdirect on 0800 0 857 857 to find out more.

And remember, events and courses are added through the year, so keep checking back to find the training that you need.

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