Innovation is on the calendar for Denman

Posted: 28/01/2016

Lifelong learning is a mantra bandied about by almost everyone with a connection to schools, education any other form of systematised learning.

Despite its popularity, the ‘lifelong learning’ promise is seldom realised. Learning provision often ranges from the highly structured and regimented ‘formal courses’ to the often chaotic and questionable online variety.

But nestled in a sleepy part of Oxfordshire there is an organisation with a different slant on learning. It is more aligned with the ‘lifelong’ mantra than almost any other I have encountered.

Denman is the learning centre for the WI. Since the Calendar Girls, the WI has been desperate to convince the world that it is more than jam and Jerusalem. Denman goes a long way to do exactly that.

Denman offers over 500 day and residential courses for WI members and non-members. The learning portfolio is vast and flexible; the costs are affordable. Most importantly perhaps, the attitude is focused on customer service.

Learners are of all ages, most are female. Some come to improve their skills, others to increase their knowledge. Others to reach out to women like themselves, sometimes isolated or frustrated and seeking connection.

But Denman, like its remarkable Georgian mansion and its winding array of modern accommodation brings together a dichotomy of old and new; traditional and modern, in a way that is provides opportunity and frustration.

Some 30 Oxfordshire business people took on Denman’s issues at a Big Gig held at the site.

Big Gigs are fast-paced, highly interactive innovation events delivered through the Oxfordshire Business First network. The ideas flow from ‘people who know’, business people with the scars on their backs and enough fire in their belly to debate and deliver valuable insights and innovation ideas.

Like most Big Gigs, the event at Denman delivered a wide range of possibilities for improvement and innovation. There were no sacred cows saved from the barbecue, the feedback from the delegates was frank and forthright while being thoughtful and considered.

A broad conclusion was that Denman is special. It provides a quality learning opportunity mostly to women across a broad spectrum of topics in the most flexible of environments. But perhaps most importantly, Denman helps to make the connection between ideas and the even more vital connections between people.