Thursday, 22 December 2016

Frances Graham

An old friend and colleague of mine from London, Jim Cornelius, wrote this fine tribute to Frances Graham, a pioneer in the field of adult, basic skills training who was an outstanding chief executive of 'Workbase' for 35 years.

Workbase helped low paid workers, initially in the public sector, to improve their numeracy and literacy skills, and its 'work-based' approach to adult learning went on to catch the imagination of employers in the private and voluntary sectors as well.

Because Workbase helped deliver a better trained, more highly motivated workforce at the same time as improving the life chances and prospects of the individual employees involved in the programme.

During my time as Unison's Head of Local Government in Scotland in the 1990s, I did my best to encourage the expansion of Workbase north of the border from its original base in London.

Frances was indeed a very kind and gentle person with an unshakeable commitment to adult learning which made a enormous difference to the lives of many thousands of low paid workers.  


Frances Graham, Chief Executive of Workbase Training from 1980 to 2015
died yesterday, 20th December, after a long fight against cancer.
Frances was the first employee, as a part-time Lecturer, of the NUPE
London Division Basic Skills Project in 1979. When seeking and obtaining
funds from the Inner London Education Authority, the NUPE Project was
required to become multi-union and was joined by the TGWU, GMB and COHSE
whilst it worked solely in the public sector on training union members
in basic skills at the workplace, which was its unique feature. When it
later developed into the private sector, the TUC joined its' Management

Frances was the driving force behind Workbase and maintained close links
with NUPE, which she joined as a member after the rest of the Workbase
Staff (17 in number at its peak prior to the abolition of ILEA) joined
NATFHE and ASTMS. Workbase was the inspiration for NUPE's Return to
Learn and the TUC's Union Learn Projects.

Frances and her Zimbabwean husband, Bing, were both active in the South
Africa Freedom Movement and had to leave South Africa clandestinely in
the early 1970s and went to Israel. Having avoided conscription in South
Africa, Bing was confronted with the same prospect in Israel and so they
headed for Britain. Their roots were in the Jewish community in North
London where Frances used many of her contacts for the benefit of
Workbase and its clients. During its 35 years of operation, Workbase
trained thousands of trade union members for hundreds of public and
private sector employers, who paid for those skills to be taught.

Frances was dedicated to overcoming illiteracy and innumeracy and was a
very kind gentle person committed to working with the Trade Union
Movement. She is survived by her husband, Bing, her three daughters and
a number of Grandchildren.


Jim Cornelius