Learning Stories

We know that learning has the power to change lives.

Our learning stories feature a variety of Bristol citizens who explain 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

Mark’s Learning Story

Mark Lemon

Learning a new skill as an adult can be a great challenge, especially when balancing life with a young family and a job. In 2013, I made the big decision to study for my diploma in shopping centre management.

At the time I was a retail analyst at St David’s Shopping Centre in Cardiff, Wales. As a thirty-six year old dad, the thought of studying for the next two years was an extremely daunting prospect, but one that I needed to take on for our future.

A large part of my studies was on the job learning. Throughout your life sometimes you meet people who act as mentors, pushing you out of your comfort zones; my previous manager was one of these people, and I am very thankful that he pushed me to complete the course. As you would expect the diploma covered all aspects of shopping centre management: marketing, managing people and retail. I gained a lot of new skills, especially when managing people.

One of the best learnings I took away from the diploma was how important it is to step back and take a look at how you come across to people when leading individuals and teams. My greatest learning from the course was how important it is to step outside of your comfort zone, challenging yourself to be a better person.

Whilst studying for my diploma, I started to write stories for my three year old son, Otis. I have always enjoyed writing, but never thought to take it on as a career. After sharing the stories in blog form with friends and family, I quickly realised that I had found a passion and after great feedback when reading to school assemblies of 400 children, I decided that I wanted to write children’s stories full time.

I wanted to create stories which the family could all enjoy when the children were older, creating that magic that I experienced as a child when watching films like Mary Poppins and reading books by Roald Dahl. My favourite times with my children are at bedtime when we are reading stories together and the thought of parents reading my stories to their own children is so lovely. So I took that scary leap of faith. It was one of the biggest career decisions I have ever had to make, but it felt right. I had my wife’s backing and support, which was the most important thing.

Fast-forward a few months and I have committed to writing full time. I launched our own publishing company, Lemon Drop Books, and now a year on we have published our fourth book: Thea Lemon and her Super Sporty Fairy Godmother.

In July 2016, our debut children’s book, Otis Lemon & The Spectacular Submarine, was awarded the Platinum Junior Design Award 2016 as the Children’s book of the year (with words and within last 12 months category). The awards, organised by Junior Magazine, recognise the finest modern toys and books. The Platinum Award is the highest accolade possible and is reserved for those products that go above and beyond the high judging standards and showcase immaculate design. Winning the Junior Design Award gave me reassurance that my decision to leave my previous job to become an author was the right choice to make.

I am extremely passionate about inspiring our children to read. As a parent myself, I completely understand that it can be tricky to engage with your child when trying to read with them. If your child is studying particular subjects at school, discuss with them what specific parts of the subject they most enjoyed. Once you have pinpointed what engaged them most, start to look for books and reading material together; this way your child should start to read for enjoyment, instead of it feeling like an after school chore. Another way of engaging with children is to simply get them to story build their very own adventure. What characters would they have? Where would the story be based? What would they like the message to be in the story? Make it fun, use colours, pens and pencils. These are just some of my own personal ideas, but you might have some of your own, as you know your child best. I personally enjoy reading biographies about interesting characters who have influenced many people; inspirational figures who inspire others.

When reading the above a lot has happened over the previous few years, but I have learned a lot of new skills: setting up a new business, completing a diploma in shopping Centre management and learning not to give up on your dreams. I truly take my hat off to anyone who takes that giant leap of faith to learn new skills and take on new challenges.

Gianna’s Learning Story


I’ve always wanted a job that would allow me to spend as much time as possible with my children, so what’s better than working in a school? Coming from a very different schooling system (I’m Italian), I started ‘slowly’ as a lunchtime assistant, as I thought English schools would be too different to throw myself head on into teaching.

Little did I know that I would become so involved in my school’s extra curricular activities, I would forget all about teaching for four years! What did it for me was the Eco-Schools project.

I started as a member of our school’s Eco Team, leading a couple of projects which had a close connection with the lunch hour (Healthy Eating Week and Living Streets Walk to School), and when our Eco Coordinator left, I took over (reluctantly at first) the whole Eco-Schools thing.

It was amazingly rewarding to see the kids getting more and more involved in activities such as reading the school’s energy meters, participating in the ‘Litter Pickers Squad’ during the lunch break and going around the school switching lights and projectors off.

Seeing the children’s delighted expressions when I announced to them that we had been awarded the Green Flag award, repaid me many times over for all the hard work I put into the project.

I am now going to move on and become a Teaching Assistant, but I will do all I can to continue my school in their eco journey. I am also going to keep being part of a dedicated group of staff from different schools in Bristol who work together to try and keep the legacy of Bristol’s Green Capital alive.

Meera’s Learning Story

My career path has never been mapped out. At school I was strong in Mathematics and foreign languages and I went on to study Mathematics at university. As a graduate I was open to a number of career options and was successful in joining the prestigious IT graduate training scheme at The John Lewis Partnership as a software developer.

This was a leap of faith on my part, as I had shown no skill in technology up to that point! I remember being the only female on my intake of 12 but soon realised that I had joined an exciting, fast-paced industry.

Over the years I have worked in many different business sectors including: retail banking, a technology start-up and more recently, investment banking where I transitioned from my role as a Software Developer to an IT Project Manager. I now work in the Foreign Exchange Business with responsibility for the delivery of all technology projects and I love it!

Earlier this year, as part of my career development programme, I was invited to attend a technology event aimed at Women in Technology. Sitting in a room with over 200 women from the technology sector, I felt inspired and re-invigorated about the industry I worked in.

During the event I met Rav Bumbra, Director of Structur3dpeople and learned about their mentoring programme*. The meeting was fortuitous as I was at a stage where I wanted to grow my career and take it to the next level and felt that mentoring could help me.

Through this mentoring programme I have had the opportunity to learn from my mentor’s experience and receive valuable career guidance and support. Over the year we have been assigned books to read, looked at personality profiling, identified challenges we want to overcome in the workplace and attended talks, workshops and listened to guest speakers.

One of my tasks this winter is to talk at my children’s school and help to spread the message to young children that technology can be an exciting career.

Mentoring has increased my self-confidence and made me appreciate and celebrate my career successes and achievements. I realise there is no failing, only learning and trying again. I am motivated and I am taking control of my career rather than waiting for someone else to do it for me. The benefits are multiple and the personal growth of the women in my group has been remarkable.

My career has not been predictable or typical, as I’ve changed roles and moved between industries, but I’d highly recommend brave moves as this has given me the freedom to evolve and develop my career. Surrounded by the intelligent and accomplished women in my mentoring group, I realise that this is my journey and I have achieved a great deal. I am very excited about what the future will bring!

*Meera took part in Structur3dpeople mentoring programme, which is now available in Bristol, London and Liverpool. 

Nicky’s Learning Story

Learning a new skill as an adult can be very difficult and involve overcoming huge barriers.

I never learnt to swim as a child even though my primary school provided lessons from age seven at the local pool. Quite early on in the process the whole class were standing along the edge of the pool at the shallow end awaiting instructions. Suddenly one of the boys decided to push first my friend and then me into the water. We both went straight under and had to be rescued crying and screaming by life guards. The boy thought this was very funny. However, it had a huge effect on me and despite having swimming lessons throughout my school career, I was never able to let myself go as there was now a psychological barrier.

I was determined that my own children would learn to swim and they were able to from a young age. I love the sea and all of our holidays were by the seaside and I would happily go into the sea within my depth and could watch the waves for ages. Over the years on holiday, various family members would try to teach me but all to no avail. What people who can swim don’t appreciate is the great fear that is ingrained following the experience I had as a child.

The turning point came 18 months ago. I had been taking my three eldest grandchildren to swimming lessons and from the viewing platform I watched with interest as they were taught all of the correct moves and looked at the steps to being able to swim. My granddaughter was like a fish in water and is a joy to watch. She has just achieved her 1000 metres and is a real inspiration to me. As well as the lessons they needed to practice, so I started taking them at the weekend and bought myself a kickboard. I soon realised I was missing out on the fun.

In June 2015, at the age of 57, I made the brave decision to phone Horfield Leisure Centre and ask to sign up for adult swimming lessons. I felt slightly embarrassed, but there was no need as the lady who spoke to me was lovely, very encouraging and within a couple of weeks I was booked onto the Wednesday evening lessons. I bought a new swimming costume and goggles and they gave me a free hat!

The first lesson was spent holding on near the edge of the pool learning how to move into a floating position and how to stand up. This was actually the most important thing to learn as being able to stand up in any situation is a necessity, which was quickly brought home to me when a few weeks later a new person collided with me. The fear is always ready to surface, so the first few weeks weren’t easy. I started going to practice with my daughter each week and my grandchildren were great at encouraging me. I also found going to Aquafit really helped with my water confidence.

A few months down, the line I could do the moves and the breathing for the front crawl, but I could not let go of my kickboard as otherwise panic would rise. Quite by chance I tried floating on my back and found I could do it, so was then able to master backstroke and my teacher was ecstatic when I did a length. Letting go on the front has been the biggest challenge; I am happy to go underwater and can breath, but the mental block was too strong to trust the water on my front.

I have now had over 50 lessons and I am just about able to do some breaststroke, although the co-ordination of arms and legs is quite difficult. I feel I have come way out of my comfort zone in the course of the last year. An added setback was that I suffered two major bereavements in the latter part of 2015. I found that the swimming became a real focus for me during that time and continues to keep my mind occupied. My best experience so far has been floating on my back in the sea in Menorca with gentle waves lapping around me. Something I never dreamt I would do.

As a learning ambassador for Bristol, I see it as my role to encourage new members of my swimming class. Knowing how scary it can be at first, I can impart my knowledge and experience and praise their achievements. I see younger pupils come and go as they learn quickly, but I know that I have achieved a great deal in overcoming a real fear. It has been and still is a challenge, but I hope that very soon I will be able to do front crawl and breaststroke and then begin working more on the technique and doing lane swimming. I have been keeping a diary and I am planning to write something to help others. I would encourage all adults who can’t swim to sign up for lessons. It is a valuable life skill, but also very enjoyable and great form of exercise.

Kayleigh’s Learning Story

After leaving school at 15 with no qualifications and becoming a young parent, I wasn’t too optimistic about a future career.

I had always assumed I would settle for working as a waitress or behind a bar, which I did for a few years. I decided at this point to enrol in a college course, where I gained three basic qualifications, in order to improve my employment opportunities. I spent a lot of time searching through job advert after job advert; they all seemed to require more experience or additional qualifications which I didn’t have.

At 19 and with my daughter due to start school, I started looking at ways to further my learning and expand my career prospects.

I had heard about apprenticeships through friends, but never really looked into what they could offer. I found some further information online, which seemed to fit what I needed: more qualifications, on the job learning, real experience. I applied for several different apprenticeships, some with private companies and two with Bristol City Council. I received letters through the post inviting me for an interview for both apprenticeships with Bristol City Council, a couple of days apart.

My first interview was for the Early Years and Childcare Service as a Business Support Apprentice. I had not had many interviews before and was terribly nervous, but the interview went well and I left feeling considerably better. I had a voicemail waiting for me two days later, offering me the position, which I accepted. I cancelled my second interview.

I started in September on a Level 2 apprenticeship. My manager and I both felt that my skill set was too advanced for a Level 2, so we encouraged the Apprenticeship Team to move me on to a Level 3. The Level 3 was due to last 18 months, I completed it in 11. During the 11 months, I attended college one day per week, where I gained an extra 4 qualifications. Following a recommendation from my ICT tutor, Bristol City Council funded a place for me on another college course, where I gained additional qualifications in the use of databases.

I was progressing well and was pleased with how far I had come in a short space of time. However, it came as a shock to me when I received an email informing me I had been nominated as Apprentice of the Year. I attended a celebration ceremony, where I won Apprentice of the Year for my department, Children and Young Peoples Services. Because of this success, I was put forward to the corporate celebration ceremony against other winners of the department award. I can’t explain the excitement when they read out my name as the winner of the corporate Apprentice of the Year award!

Not long after this success, I applied for a permanent BG7 Business Support post within the team I was working for. I was up against some tough competition and had to sit an excel test prior to my interview. I was offered the post a few days later. In a little over 1 year, I had 7 new qualifications and a permanent post within Bristol City Council.

My role took a different direction very quickly, and I soon became involved in supporting others with delivering training. I seemed to become more involved with each session, so I was booked on to attend the Train the Trainer course, to learn how to deliver and plan an effective training session. I really enjoyed delivering training and was given the opportunity to become a co-trainer, teaching Children’s Centre staff how to use an online database. As my training responsibilities increased, I recognised that I needed to further my learning in this area quite considerably. After discussion with my manager, we agreed I could book on to the Level 3 Award in Education and Training course, which is the first step towards a full teaching qualification. 4 months later, I had another qualification to add to my ever growing list of achievements.

An opportunity arose not long after the completion of this course, for me to apply for a new BG9 post within Early Years as a Data Management Support Officer. As my role had taken such a data-specific focus, I felt this new role would suit me well and so I applied. After a nerve-wracking interview, I was offered the post.

Three and a half years after starting with Bristol City Council, I now have 12 qualifications, have moved up several grades and am writing and delivering my own personalised training all over Bristol. I will be forever grateful to have worked in an environment which believes in the prospects of young people and does not only support professional development, but actively encourages it.


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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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