UCLan researchers help college learners light the way through PEER Project

27 June 2016

Pioneering scheme aims to empower marginalised students

In partnership with researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) Roma young people and ESOL* learners at Bolton College have been awarded certificates of achievement in acknowledgement of their invaluable contribution to the PEER Project (Participation, Experiences and Empowerment for Roma youth).

The 25 students undertook extensive research, involving over 1,000 of their fellow learners, to provide feedback to College staff about ways of improving the overall student experience.

UCLan’s Dr Cath Larkins, Co-Director of the Centre for Children and Young People’s Participation, said: “Both Roma and ESOL learners have developed their confidence and leadership skills through the hands-on programme. The scheme aims to empower marginalised students so they can improve their lives and promote respect and understanding for their rights and talents. The energy, commitment and resourcefulness these young people exhibited in finding out the views and experiences of their fellow students has been impressive. We are also delighted that Bolton College has responded so positively in collaborating with us in this work.”

The initiative is just one of the schemes taking place within the two-year, pan-European PEER Project. Launched in January 2015, the EU-funded programme runs in partnership with a number of organisations across the continent including the University of Babes-Bolyai (Coordinators), Universitat Autonoma De Barcelona and University College Dublin.

"Taking part in the PEER Project has been an amazing opportunity. I’ve made friends, helped people and led a team – Power2Youth – to complete research within the College."

Voja Sajn, 19, is a Spanish Romanian learner currently studying plastering at Bolton College. Voja, who trained as a PEER mentor along with five others at UCLan, said: “I arrived in the UK in 2014 and couldn’t speak a word of English. I spent a year in ESOL Foundation at Bolton College and received excellent support. Taking part in the PEER Project has been an amazing opportunity. I’ve made friends, helped people and led a team – Power2Youth – to complete research within the College. No-one ever told me I was good at anything until I came to Bolton College.”

As well as helping the learners to develop their confidence and leadership skills, the results of their research – including feedback on the College’s current facilities and catering services – have proved highly constructive, and the productivity of the group has been such that some of the mentors have presented to other EU organisations via Skype.

Reta O’Connell, ESOL Lecturer at Bolton College, facilitated the project and commented: “I’ve been absolutely astounded by the students’ energy, diligence, commitment to the project and to making positive changes within College. I’m very proud of the standard of work they have produced and that it has been used as good practice by other EU partners.”

Dr Larkins added: “The students’ social action has been an inspiration to the other 350 young people involved in PEER across the EU and already their example has motivated young people in Wales to support the rights and highlight the abilities of their own young Roma community.”

Peter Griffiths, Head of Essential Skills at Bolton College, said: “I am delighted with our involvement in this project and it is so encouraging to see the development of this particular group of students. A lot of time and effort has gone into making this work behind the scenes and I am particularly appreciative of the contribution made by our staff.”

*English for Speakers of Other Languages