First learners graduate from WMCA-funded course to help survivors of modern slavery

The first learners have successfully completed a pilot course funded by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) for survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Twelve adults have just finished the first Free Thinking course at Fircroft College of Adult Education in Birmingham, which has given them life skills to help them rebuild their lives after experiencing trauma, torture or trafficking.

The 10-week programme – the first of its kind in the West Midlands – included personal and social development; employment rights; functional maths, English and IT skills; and presentation and communication skills. All the learners were referred by social services or the voluntary sector.

First learners graduate from WMCA-funded course to help survivors of modern slavery

L-R Mel Lenehan, principal and chief executive of Fircroft College of Adult Education, is pictured with Regina, one of the 12 learners who have just completed the Free Thinking course funded by the WMCA

The WMCA has recently taken control of the region’s £126m Adult Education Budget (AEB) and how it is delivered, enabling people across the West Midlands to benefit from flexible, tailored programmes of learning that build their confidence, enhance their wellbeing and give them better career opportunities.

Julie Nugent, director of productivity and skills at the WMCA, said: “Through the AEB, we’ve been able to fund the Free Thinking course at Fircroft College, helping survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking to gain the life skills needed to better integrate into their local community.

“This is all part of our commitment to improve people’s quality of life – especially for the most vulnerable in society – through new educational and career opportunities.”

Mel Lenehan, principal and chief executive of Fircroft College of Adult Education, said: “People who have gone through the trauma of modern slavery and human trafficking often feel that they can’t get into mainstream education and employment, and become socially isolated from their local community.

“It’s been very rewarding to see how the Free Thinking course has helped to rebuild confidence and encourage independence in adults who have been traumatised in many different ways. We’re very proud of all our learners and we look forward to running more programmes in the future.”

Three of the learners’ stories follow below:


Regina was frightened of coming to Fircroft College. This was an environment she had never been in before and she had no idea what to expect. But she was determined to learn more English and more maths, and to put everything she possibly could into her learning.

Regina found the first two weeks at college hard, but in the third week she felt that things were starting to fit into place. She began to understand how she fitted into the class and realised that the students and staff were not going to laugh at her or make fun of her.

Because Regina began to relax and enjoy the sessions, she began to learn. She really appreciates the help the Free Thinking course has given her with life skills, such as advice and guidance about how to access help and support, and how it has increased her confidence. Regina also feels the mindfulness course has helped her to manage stressful situations better.

In the future, Regina would like to be a nurse. She said: “People have looked after me and now I feel I should look after them.”

Watch this video to hear from Regina and the college about how the Free Thinking course is helping learners who have experienced modern slavery and human trafficking.


Natasha came to this country believing her friend, who encouraged her to join him, would be able to provide her with a safer and better life. However, after arriving in the UK the reality was very different and Natasha was desperate to leave the situation she had at first willingly gone into. Natasha has no friends or relatives in this country and feels she now has a family in the other Free Thinking students.

When Natasha first came to Fircroft College, she had no idea what to expect. On the first day of the course the group played an ice breaker game where they had to give each other compliments and she cried. Because of the relaxed learning environment, Natasha found herself opening up more and being able to focus on her learning. She says she has learnt to accept and like herself, she has more confidence and cannot believe that within ten weeks her English language skills have improved so much.

Natasha is highly qualified in her own country and has professional qualifications to work in both the accountancy and health care sectors, but is unable to work in the UK at the moment because of her lack of knowledge of the English language. However, she now feels confident to keep learning English and that eventually she will be able to get a good job.

Natasha said: “I have learned who I am. I deserve respect. I am not a bad person and I realise I am not stupid.”


Jane was very nervous coming to Fircroft and did not know what to expect. Jane suffers from several mental health illnesses because of traumatic events in her past including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dissociative identity disorder (DID) which made her feel that everyone was better than her.

She has found the Free Thinking course inspirational. By learning topics such as public speaking, English language skills and employability essentials, her confidence has increased. Jane now finds herself talking much more, her English has improved and she is grateful for all the opportunities the course has given her. Because of her new-found confidence Jane, who volunteers for a regional charity, has been asked by the charity to chair a group that meets regularly, and to speak on other people’s behalf.

Jane said: “I now have the strength and confidence to be myself. I am not angry any more and I have made friends for life. The other students feel like my brothers and sisters – the course has united us.”