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

Keith’s Learning Story

Keith's Learning Story

My learning story began in January 2013 and with my bathroom scales telling me an uncomfortable truth! This wasn’t just about festive excess. In the preceding two years I’d gone from being an active, slender, fit man to a slovenly, overweight shadow of my former self, due to a litany of health issues, both physical and mental.

I needed a New Year’s weight loss initiative and had always thought it would be nice to learn a martial art. I loved the Jean-Claude Van Damme films of my childhood. I decided upon karate simply because it was the only martial art that I had heard of, other than judo.

Now that I had decided what I wanted to do, the next step was finding somewhere to do it. I remember googling ‘karate beginners lessons Bristol’ and looking through the top few results. Whilst reading through a few of the websites something caught my attention straight away – a short paragraph stating that none of the instructors get paid for teaching and volunteer their services for free. That, as I would come to discover in the coming years, defines what Zenshin Dojo is all about – people helping others to better themselves, simply because it’s the right thing to do. It sounds idealistic, but in a world too frequently dominated by selfish wants and needs, it’s refreshing to come across a community in which the ethos is about learning and helping others.

I can still remember how nervous I felt, attempting to attend my first lesson. I say ‘attempting’, because I never actually made it there. I had difficulty finding the venue and arrived ten minutes late. This was followed by ten further minutes sitting in my car procrastinating about whether it was too late to turn up, before driving home. I was struggling terribly with anxiety and remember driving home convinced that my martial arts experience was over before it even began. The next day I received a short email from the founder of the club, enquiring as to why I hadn’t turned up. There was an inherent warmness to his tone that convinced me to give it another go.

Sunday 20th January 2013 was my first ever karate lesson. I can remember the details more than any lesson I’ve attended since. As soon as I walked through the door, the instructor greeted me with a friendly warmth that immediately put me at ease. I was introduced to the group and taken away from the main group to learn the Fudo Dachi (stance) and Gedan Barai (block). Throughout the lesson I was made to feel welcome and that’s something that has stayed with me since. I will never forget the first time I put my Gi (uniform) on, though I wore a t-shirt underneath it due to my embarrassment at my weight. There’s something uniquely special about putting it on for the first time.

Whilst I enjoyed learning karate, I also struggled tremendously with my mental health. I’ve battled with depression and anxiety, and at the time I was taking some quite powerful anti-depressants, which I’m sure contributed to my weight gain.

As the weeks and months passed not only did I lose some weight, which was my primary goal, but I also began to feel less anxious. The depression began to lift and I slowly began to cut back on the anti-depressants. By the middle of 2014, I’d come off them completely.

As someone who has always prided myself on my athletic ability, I feel like I’m back to the person I used to be. On a deeper level, I will always be grateful to karate, and the supportive environment at Zenshin Dojo, for helping me to overcome the worst of my mental health difficulties. I still have my bad days, but they are few and far between, and I no longer have to wear a t-shirt under my Gi!

Lawayne’s Learning Story

Lawayne's Learning Story

I started out as a parent governor when my son joined the sixth form at Redland Green School. He left many years ago now, but I have continued in my role.

I have always been involved in education. My mother, aunts and uncles were teachers and headteachers, so it’s been part of my entire life, as have volunteering and social work. I have also taught and tutored all my adult life while working as a communications professional. Being a governor was part of this continuum.

Being a school governor has brought me opportunities for personal and professional development in areas I may never have considered. It has provided opportunities to build networks and increase my awareness of the social and economic landscape, particularly in relation to education, so that I can broaden my volunteer work and support. I have also met an amazing set of people.

I think through volunteering as a governor I have become increasingly altruistic: becoming a better human being. I find myself mentoring many young people I come across in daily life. I often feel I am every young person’s ‘auntie’. In fact, they often say I am like their auntie! Often young people will just approach me and start a conversation and before you know it it’s a whole confidence boosting, or career dreams support conversation. And they are so joyful at the end of the conversation.

The sense of achievement and satisfaction from being a school governor and watching the school grow from strength to strength is astonishing – and since starting my role as a school governor, I have expanded my involvement to more Bristol schools and have supported more and more young people and fellow governors.

By being a school governor I feel that I have been able to make a difference to my community and support and improve the quality of life of young people. It’s been a way to avoid boredom and tedium and enjoy a fuller and more satisfied and dynamic life.

If you’re thinking of becoming a governor then I would certainly recommend seeking out as many training opportunities as possible. Take on new and different responsibilities to widen your areas of expertise and feed your curiosity by reading and research. Most of all always keep at the core the determination to do what is best for the children and young people.

The Bristol Learning City partnership launched the ‘Be a Governor‘ on 6 December 2018. People can register their interest of becoming a school governor or trustee on the Inspiring Governance website.

Dominika’s Learning Story

Dominika's Learning Story

I am an A-level student currently studying Geography, Sociology and Business. I have a huge passion for geography and especially sustainability; however there aren’t many activities outside the curriculum that involve the subject.

When I learnt about Catalyst Bootcamp, a three day residential programme in Bristol that supports young women to be change-makers for green careers and the planet, I was really excited and couldn’t wait to sign up! I wanted to learn about different career paths that can be taken to enforce sustainability, whilst being able to improve my confidence.

I was positively surprised by the Catalyst Boot camp, everything was better than I expected and my expectations were already really high. Everyone was friendly and each guest speaker was an interesting individual who talked to us about their sustainable experiences. Getting to share our own sustainability ideas and understanding of the world was something that I really liked about the programme, as well as the confidence building sessions.

Since the bootcamp, I have become more concerned about learning people’s opinions and looking at things from different perspectives. However, the biggest change is that I try to think of a sustainable solution in every situation – be it pollution around a school or traffic around a town.

I have become more organised and calm about my future. Also I know how to deal with stress and anxiety due to the motivational sessions and I’m not afraid to speak up. I have also been able to consider many different options and career paths – I have become really interested in taking a gap year after hearing people talk about their experience of traveling. However, I also liked how the guest speakers would describe their way to success, showing that going to university is not the only choice if you’re not that interested in it; but in the end, it still made me more eager to go.

If you are interested in sustainability and want to learn more about it, the bootcamp is the best way to do it and you get to meet many amazing people.

Catalyse Change CIC held their first Catalyst Bootcamp at the University of Bristol in August 2017. The programme was a mix of sustainability speakers, mentors and personal development tools. Bursaries were offered to a number of participants, including Dominika whose bursary was funded by Pukka Teas. 
Next year’s Catalyst Bootcamp will be held at the University of Bristol on 1-3 August 2018. Find out more: catalyschange.com.

Roger’s Learning Story

Roger's Learning Story

As a young boy growing up in west Cornwall, I was an avid follower of sport on the radio and the early days of Saturday Grandstand on black and white TV.

The opportunities to watch top-level sport live were limited and my contact was limited to listening, viewing and writing off for autographs and match programmes as well as collecting sports books.

I often fell into a fantasy world of commentating on major sporting events and living imaginary moments as a top sports journalist, including test matches and Olympic Games.

There was little encouragement to lead my career path in that direction and my career went in other ways.

Imagine my delight when, in my fifties, I was given the opportunity to be the emergency stand-in announcer at Clifton Rugby Club through someone not turning up.

The role quickly became permanent and one day at a match in Cornwall I was invited to commentate on matches for BBC Radio Cornwall when their teams played in the Bristol area. At last a childhood dream had become a reality, a few decades on!

The commentating led to writing match reports and producing press releases for both national and regional papers. This also led me to being invited to be the ‘microphone man’ at other non-sporting events.

Learning new skills and enjoying different experiences has been great fun and it shows that you should never give up on your dreams, no matter how old you are.


View our entire collection of learning stories on Storify:


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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Your Learning Story*

We review all submissions carefully and we will get in touch if we’re able to publish your learning story.

If you have told your learning story in a different way such as by film, music or pictures please upload it onto our Facebook page or alternatively email it to: learning.city@bristol.gov.uk