My BEM is a reminder that I have benefited from the power of learning

Frank Harris began his adult learning journey having spent 35 years in and out of prison, battling addiction and intermittent homelessness. In only four years he quit drugs, gained GCSEs, and started training in counselling to support vulnerable people.

After leaving prison, Frank joined the European Social Fund (ESF) Move Project at City Lit, which helps learners with a history of homelessness to gain stability and employability skills.

He has since gone on to complete an NVQ in supporting homeless and vulnerable people, a degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of East London and was recently awarded the British Empire Medal for services to adult education and skills in the 2017 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Frank won our European Social Fund Outstanding Learner of the Year Award during our 2009 Adult Learners’ Week (now Festival of Learning). We spoke to Frank about the day he received his award from Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant at the Tower of London, and the significance of this achievement:

“On November 17, in the company of my three children, I was presented with my British Empire Medal for my services to adult education and skills.

To begin with, I started to question what I was doing here, and why I deserved such recognition, but those feelings soon passed and I allowed myself to feel proud and embrace the occasion.

Whilst I sat listening to the speeches and the stories about the journeys of the other award recipients, I thought about all the people who had made it possible for me to be where I was on that morning.

My BEM was awarded for services to adult learning and skills, something that I would not have been able to provide without the support given to me by others, particularly those individuals who worked with me at NIACE (now Learning and Work Institute). I am extremely grateful for their support and commitment to lifelong learning that has provided so many people with a second chance.

My goal is to continue to promote the power of learning and skills, and its ability to change lives and empower people. My BEM will always remind me that I am a beneficiary of that power.”