IT'S never too late to learn was the lesson given on Saturday evening at the annual Adult Learner Awards.

Now in their 19th year, the awards celebrate the achievements of adult learners across the region who, often at times against considerable odds, take their future into their own hands.

Commitment and courage are often required by adult learners to take advantage of the range of opportunities available to them to enhance their knowledge, quality of life and job prospects.

And at the Earlston High School ceremony the stories from many of the winners will hopefully inspire others back into the classroom.

Councillor Carol Hamilton, who is the executive member for Children and Young People, told us: “As always, these awards represent a tremendous amount of courage and commitment on behalf of the nominees and they are to be congratulated for their hard work.

"Each individual will have overcome their own unique and personal barriers to learning that I wish them well with whatever they go on to do as a result of their achievements.

"The quality of nominations was outstanding this year, leading the judging panel to make the unusual decision of recognising two overall winners, one individual and one group.

"Many congratulations to our very worthy group of winners for their particularly commendable efforts.

I would also like to acknowledge the ongoing commitment, enthusiasm and hard work of the tutors who have each made a significant contribution to not only the learning that has been achieved, but also the personal development that will have taken place as part of each adult’s individual journey to success.

"This was once again a very special occasion and everyone who took part should be very proud of their contribution."

Despite the high quality of nominations in all categories there can only be one winner of each.

Paul Ramage from Galashiels was named as the overall individual winner.

The 42-year-old left school to work in farming without qualifications and only limited reading and writing skills.

And he had reached rock bottom in his personal life before he realised it was time to make changes.

Paul received support from Addaction, who recommended he attend adult literacy classes with Community Learning and Development.

Paul's confidence grew with every word he could spell. He told us: “My life has changed in so many ways because of the adult learning course.

"It has given me the confidence to go forward and do my very best in all areas of my life.”

Paul has gained an SQA Employability Unit at SCQF level 3 and now volunteers as a Recovery Champion with Addaction and plans to undertake further study to gain full time employment.

Members of an English for Speakers of Other Languages course collected the overall group award.

Held as part of the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme, eight adults and their families attended weekly classes to improve their language skills.

Delivered by Borders College and Community Learning and Development, the Syrian families faced, and in some cases still face, huge barriers to learning and miss other family members, friends and their home country.

Despite this, they made real progress in learning English, with every member achieving SQA accreditation by December 2017. Group members are supported by Volunteer Centre Borders and schools to further develop their English skills through volunteering. And as their English improves, group members hope to gain work and to support their families to be healthy and to have a good life.

A representative from the Syrian ESOL group said: “The class has taught us to speak, read and write in English which has been so important in helping us and our families to settle into Scotland.”

Lauren Gunn from Galashiels collected the16-25 age group award.

Currently studying for a National Certificate in Childcare and Development at Borders College, Lauren is a single mother of four young children with no family nearby and no transport of her own.

To attend College, she regularly walks 8.5 miles with her children each day, dropping off and picking up from childcare and primary school along the way.

And a spot of rain or snow doesn’t stop her! All work handed in by Lauren has been of an exceptionally high standard.

Her 'can do' attitude has been an inspiration for her College tutors, peers and her children.

Lauren said: "During my time in college I have realised that I can achieve things.

"This learning experience has changed my life."

Jedburgh's Daniel Murray was named as the winner of the Learner in the Workplace award.

The 21-year-old, who has a learning disability, has overcome many barriers to achieve his dream of finding a job.

Daniel attended courses in the Care and Access faculty of Borders College prior to being selected as a Project SEARCH intern in August 2016.

He graduated from Project SEARCH and gained a permanent 15 hour contract as a domestic at the Borders General Hospital. Daniel added: "I have been bullied in the past but now I feel able to speak up for myself… my learning has helped me to get a good job and I have made new friends.

"I now have money to meet up with my friends and go out for a meal. I feel proud to be working in the hospital."

Winner of the Mature Learner Award was Selkirk's Yvonne Ballard.

Having battled with mental health issues since her late teens, Yvonne began an HNC Social Services course at Borders College last year.

The 52-year-old believes that her passion for learning combined with the tremendous support she received from College staff and students has helped her to continue with her learning and changed her life.

Her academic work has been of a high standard and her practical placement with Addaction has fuelled a desire to work in this sector.

The Borders-wide CEDAR Mums was named as the Learning in a Group award winner. A total of five mums have graduated from CEDAR - a programme which supports children and their mothers to deal with their experiences of domestic abuse and rebuild their lives.

The mums all had the strength and courage to leave abusive environments and to undertake a significant journey of recovery with their children.

Lithuanian social worker Aida Valdmoniene won the 26-to-49-years-old age group category.

The Eyemouth-based learner arrived in the Borders six years ago.

She has completed a series of English classes, starting with SCQF level 2 in Eyemouth, and is now studying at National 5/Higher level at Borders College, with the aim of qualifying to work in Social Work in Scotland.

Aida has shown determination and commitment, travelling from Eyemouth to the central Borders to study.

The Learning in the Community award went to Gordon Hay from Galashiels.

Gordon is a kinship carer for his grandson, Nathan, who attends Burgh Primary School.

They both were supported by Community Learning and Development to take part in two CLAY family learning programmes, which aim to build resilience.

The CLAY programme has had a significant impact on Gordon’s outlook on life.

He explained: "It makes me look at challenges with an open mind."

The programme gave Gordon and Nathan quality time together where they could talk about their feelings.

Since taking part in the programme Nathan has achieved well at school.

The Accredited Learning award went to the Parents Literacies for Employability group in Galashiels.

The group of three young mums have undertaken a range of learning with Community Learning and Development to make life better for themselves and their families.

They have overcome many barriers and shown persistence and resilience to improve their employability and their family life.

Another Galashiels-based group was named as the winner of the Learning through Volunteering award.

Skills for learning and work is a group of ten students with additional support needs attend the Care and Access faculty at Borders College.

They overcame significant personal and societal barriers to take part in an extensive forest regeneration project at Abbotsford House.

Group members planned their work, managed equipment and laboured hard in inclement autumn weather.

Gordon Brown, executive officer at Volunteer Centre Borders, added: “These awards not only celebrate some of the learning being carried out by adults across the Borders, but are a reminder of the great work being done by the countless volunteers who regularly give their time to teach reading, writing and numeracy skills.

"We know these volunteers find their roles extremely rewarding and I would urge anyone thinking about volunteering to consider this vital work.”

The awards were organised by Borders College, Live Borders, Scottish Borders Council, Scottish Borders Housing Association, Skills Development Scotland and Volunteer Centre Borders.

Overall individual - Paul Ramage

Overall group - The Syrian ESOL group

Young learner (16-25 years): Lauren Gunn

Learner in the workplace: Daniel Murray

Mature learner (50+ years): Yvonne Ballard

Learning in a group: CEDAR Mums

Learning in the community: Gordon Hay

Accredited learning: Parents Literacies for Employability

Learning through volunteering: Skills for Learning and Work

ESOL learner: Aida Valdmoniene