Learning Stories

We know that learning has the power to change lives.

Our learning stories feature Bristol citizens who share how learning has made a difference to their lives and the many ways and places that they have learnt – through friends, activities, formal education and work.

We want to gather as many learning stories as possible from across the city and we would like to hear from you! Click here to submit your learning story.

Featured Learning Stories

Ella’s Learning Story

Ella's Learning Story

I’ve always viewed myself as someone who was incapable of reaching a high level of achievement. I was never naturally top of the class and often wondered how others found it so easy.

I assumed that you were either good or bad at something and I would just have to accept my grades would never be the same as some of my peers. As a shy and introverted person, this mindset often caused me to hold myself back, avoiding anything out of my comfort zone.

In 2017, I started year 10 and began my GCSEs. I was falling behind and getting the worst grades I’d ever received. This caused me to think of school and learning in a very negative way.  I started comparing myself to others and felt that all my friends were getting smarter but I wasn’t getting anywhere.  This was the turning point for me.

I always assumed revising would be pointless. I had tried to revise before but nothing was going in, I felt like I was wasting my time. I wasn’t enjoying school and had no interest in any of my subjects.  Despite this I decided to keep it up and I started to see results. My grades increased immensely, by the time I took my GCSEs I had gone from D to A/A* grades. I exceeded many of my teachers’ expectations, surprising my family and friends.

Thanks to this, my confidence and self-belief increased. I was finally getting somewhere and felt anything was possible if I worked hard enough. For the first time I was getting a buzz from learning, seeking out opportunities to increase my knowledge in subjects I had previously hated. I also started saying ‘yes’ to more opportunities and pushed myself to try new things.

I’ve just completed my first year of A-levels, during this time I have gained an interest in media and marketing. For the first time I’ve found a subject I really enjoyed. This made me motivated and excited to start learning as much as possible about a career in this industry.

I have also completed a work experience placement with the External Communications team at Bristol City Council. This has been hugely beneficial and I really enjoyed it. Doing work experience is very important to gain experience in a real working environment. This can help you to acquire and advance skills, essential for your future. Unfortunately work experience isn’t available to everyone. As something so easily accessible to me, I had taken it for granted and opted out on previous occasions.

My learning journey has taught me the importance of dedication and working hard, as well as making the most of every opportunity. I now realise how lucky I am to have so many opportunities in education and how they can change lives for the better. I plan to continue increasing my knowledge in media and marketing. I’m excited for what my future holds!

Lucy’s Learning Story

Lucy's Learning Story

Hi, I’m Lucy. I work in the Employment Support team at Bristol City Council. My job is to maintain a network of contacts across Bristol and the West of England who can help residents improve their skills and get jobs.

I’ve always enjoyed learning and have completed various courses online, at the Folk House and City of Bristol College – ranging from cyber security, marketing and even silversmithing! I think it’s important to pursue courses in and outside of work, as sometimes I just want to learn something new for myself.

One learning experience that I’d considered doing for quite a while was starting a Masters Degree. I looked at the Open University and other distance learning options, but as it’s such as big commitment I wanted to make sure that I chose the right course for me – and the choices available can be very overwhelming!

I’ve now successfully completed my first year of a Masters Degree in Science Communication at the University of the West of England. It’s a part time course with work friendly teaching blocks. It will take me around three years to finish, or maybe four, as it’s flexible.

I’ve found being back in the classroom and learning with fellow students such as rewarding experience. It’s been challenging to fit in all of the assignments and reading around work, and I still haven’t quite got the balance quite right, but I’m getting there. The one thing that I wasn’t expecting to feel during the course was the nervousness of being assessed. I hadn’t been in a situation of having to try and achieve a high mark since completing my degree over 10 years ago and it hasn’t always been a pleasant experience!

What has been great is the opportunity to learn about things that’s completely separate to my day-to-day job, but having said that, there is a lot of content that is relevant such as project planning and evaluation. I hope to embed this into my work and also some of my teams processes over the next few months.

I’ve found the whole process of the Masters Degree so far really exciting. I think the course has got the right balance of content that has useful application, but also the opportunity to engage with scientific content that isn’t available in most shorter or casual courses. In the next academic year, I’m really looking forward to doing more practical modules linking in with scientists and organisations across Bristol.

I’d really encourage everyone to keep learning about new things. You don’t need to commit to a long expensive course if you don’t want to, as there are so many opportunities online and at various venues across Bristol. I’d recommend taking a look at Bristol Community Learning and Adult Learning as a good place to start. There are so many different options available out there, so I’m sure you’ll find something that interests you!

Jack’s Learning Story

Jack's Learning Story

I have been fortunate enough to have had a largely positive experience of formal education. I completed my GCSEs in 2016 and I am currently studying for my A-levels, hoping to go onto university.

In the February of my final year of GCSEs, I decided to apply for the Bristol City Youth Council. I was elected by my peers to represent North Bristol and in 2018 I was elected by my fellow Youth Councillors to become a Youth Mayor.

I have found that my time on the Youth Council and being a Youth Mayor has helped me significantly. The confidence that I have gained from sitting in meetings with rooms full of adults has encouraged me to speak in class. It has also taught me that I should not be scared of voicing my opinion.

Having something that I am passionate about has also benefitted my wellbeing. One of the main issues that I have campaigned about, during my time on the Youth Council, is the poor quality, lack of consistency and, in some cases, the absence of PSHE.

PSHE stands for personal, social, health and economic education. I think it is one of the education systems more serious flaws, but also one that can be rectified. PHSE is marketed as many different things in different schools, but in essence it’s education about sex, drugs, finance, citizenship, how to prepare for jobs and many of the other non-academic life skills.

Unfortunately, PSHE as a whole is not compulsory. Some parts such as sex and relationship education and citizenship must be taught by schools, but other PSHE subjects are optional. This means that there is no authorised and uniform curriculum, leading to irregular and sometimes sub-par learning around the country.

Whilst PSHE may not seem like an issue that is not as significant as getting good exam results, for those it affects it is very important. I have found that since I have been applying to university, many of the skills that are covered in PSHE are now becoming more prominent in my life.

My personal experience of education and PSHE, as I mentioned, has been largely positive, but from speaking to and seeing testimony from students across the city this is so often not the case. For those that have not had a positive experience of PSHE, there can be negative consequences further down the line.

In my role as a Youth Mayor, I have been able to speak to many different stakeholders who have a vested interest in PSHE to try and influence their thoughts and decision making. In October 2018, councillors, OFSTED representatives, teachers and students attended a PSHE conference that was organised and facilitated by the Youth Council. We also carried out a survey of over 1,500 Bristol-based students, which demonstrated that PSHE was a serious issue that young people care about.

To be able to be involved with the Youth Council and do something so meaningful, as well as enjoyable, has been very rewarding. It has helped to take my mind off of school, but most importantly is has helped me to develop greater self-confidence. My ability to debate and develop an argument has improved too and I feel that I now have an inner-strength to challenge other people’s thinking and differing views.

Jaya’s Learning Story


My story begins in the middle of my third year at college. I decided it was time to leave my family, as we were going through some issues, and move in with my boyfriend. I had a lot of stress on my shoulders, but I did my best dealing with it and continuing to attend college. I also juggled a part time job to pay for things like my bus pass, clothes and food.

A few months on and I had successfully finished college. I was starting to find my way through life, but I was still struggling. I felt like a stranger in my boyfriend’s home, with no support from my family, and was slowly losing so-called friends. I was struggling with money, as I was only working part time, and I then found out that the sports store I was working at was closing down. I just felt like everything was going wrong. I was at a crossroads and I didn’t know what to do.

I started to apply for loads of jobs, but was unable to find anything I actually wanted to pursue. Eventually the sports store closed down and I was unemployed in October right before Christmas. I didn’t stop looking though and I started to apply for apprenticeships to increase my chances. I tweaked my CV a few times to make sure it was perfect and I also practised interview techniques – and to my delight my hard work paid off!

I got offered an interview at Bristol City Council for a Marketing and Communications Apprenticeship role. I was drawn to this because of the experience that it would offer me in social media, events and campaigns. I was really nervous at the interview, but I felt passionately that this was something that I really wanted to do. The next day my life changed. I got a call back from one of the interviewers saying the role was mine if I wanted it. I knew I could gain new experience from the role and really wanted to get more insight into marketing and communications, so I took it.

Being new to any workplace can be difficult, but it feels like I’m where I belong. I’ve got two amazing mentors and an amazing manager. Everyone is just so supportive, friendly and I think it’s one of the best places to work.

I have gained experience across a wide range of projects, for example I’ve recently worked on the National Apprenticeship Week campaign. I undertook an interview with the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, and I attended a jobs and apprenticeships careers fair at the City of Bristol College. I also went to a school event and spoke to several groups of students, answering their questions on apprenticeships and sharing my experience.

Overall I think this whole journey has opened my eyes to how important it is to keep positive and motivated. I’ve learnt so much on my apprenticeship already and it’s certainly changed my whole outlook and aspirations for life. If you’re thinking of applying for an apprenticeship, I would certainly suggest you go for it. It’s a good option for those who want to start a career and learn at the same time – and just remember that everything in your life is either a blessing or a lesson…

Inês’s Learning Story


For a very long time I used to trust the wrong people. I didn’t know why I did it, or why I repeatedly kept doing it, but my suspicion lays in the fact that I had no real self-esteem and any bit of attention given to me was enough for me to call people friends. Second chances would become tenth chances, the lies would become truths and the excuses would become explanations. It wasn’t a pretty situation, but I was shy and lonely.

I wanted to have friends. Everybody at the age of 10 wanted to have friends. Everybody wanted to be the popular kid, wanted to be the best, wanted to be loved by everybody – and I wasn’t an exception, but I also wasn’t the norm. My “friend” was the norm. She was gorgeous, smart and very popular. Guys wanted her and girls wanted to be her and, if they couldn’t be her, they would try to be her friend. Yet, out of all the other prettier, skinnier girls she chose me to be her friend.

This girl, let’s call her Jane, she was good and kind to me and unlike everybody else she didn’t tease me or make fun of me for being who I was. She never hurt me per se, but she also didn’t do anything to stop me hurting from all of the other people. This was a girl who said she would always have my back and that she wouldn’t let anyone hurt me. Yet push came to shove and she shoved me. Pretty much everything she had said about protecting me went into the trash without a second thought. I never really confronted her about why she wouldn’t defend me and I never really called her out on it – for that I have only myself to blame. I knew that once I did I would lose the only “real” friend I had ever had and I didn’t want that to happen.

As time passed, I kept thinking why she would let the guys in our class taunt me the way they did, why she would let her own boyfriend toy with me, the person she called her best friend. I came up with the conclusion that no matter how popular she was, I was always more unpopular, which meant that if she had sided with me I’d have destroyed her popularity. All of her “friends” would have deserted her and she would have been as alone as I had felt for all of those years.

I should note that I don’t hold a grudge for her. In fact, if I saw her on the street I’d probably hug her and I would thank her from the bottom of my heart. Even though she sold our friendship for her popularity, she had always believed in me. She believed that I would succeed and that all of my pains would result in something incredible. And guess what? She was right!

We eventually lost touch and I believe that this was for the best. Getting this distance from her, but also from the people that made me hate and self-doubt myself for eight years, helped me to realise that there was nothing wrong with me and that I wasn’t broken. In fact, for the first time in my life I was on the right path and this time I knew what I wanted, who I wanted in my life and that history would not be repeating itself.

I went to university with a new philosophy. I would not care about what other people had to say about me and if I happened to find another “Jane”, spoiler alert I did, I would fight back and I would not fear losing a friend. And it worked! I ended my first year with a group of close friends, friends who loved me for who I was, who always had my back and who accepted my weirdness rather than judging it.

What this whole experience has taught me is that it is scary to open yourself to new people, especially when you’re a shy little creature like me. Things are unforeseeable and you can’t predict if, when or how some relationships will end. You also can’t also predict if, when or how relationships will succeed! Each person you meet, regardless of whether or not they will stay in your life, will teach you a lesson. For the majority of time you won’t necessarily remember the person, but the lesson they will leave you with.

Don’t overthink when things take a wrong turn and don’t try coming up with a solution, because a lot of the time situations like this just can’t be fixed and that is fine. It doesn’t make you weak or sad. It makes you strong!

How will sharing stories encourage people to learn in Bristol?

Sharing stories promotes understanding and brings people together.

In a neuroscience study, led by Uri Hasson in Princeton, a woman told a story to a group of listeners while their brains were monitored by MRI scans.  The results showed that the listeners experienced the exact same brain patterns as the storyteller.  The listeners developed empathy for the storyteller, because they were experiencing the story in the same way as the teller.

This means that when you tell a story to a friend, you can transfer your experiences, ideas, thoughts and emotions to them.  They feel what you feel.  What’s more, as you relate to someone’s desires through a story, they become your desires.

Sharing a learning story can bring a powerful force of change to those listening, encouraging them to go onto learn something new for themselves.

Share Your Learning Story!

We want to gather as many learning stories as possible from across the city and we would like to hear from you.

Your story might be based on an experience that made a difference to your life, it might be about one thing you learnt that set you on a specific course, or it might tell the story of your learning journey and demonstrate how what you learnt has impacted on your life.

Everyone’s learning story is important to us, so please help us by sending in your learning story below.

For ideas of how to create your learning story please download our top tips:

Submit Your Learning Story

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