Our history

Equal access to education

The Canterbury Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) was founded in 1915. At that time, only the rich could afford an education. If you came from a working family, training for a profession was almost impossible without a wealthy patron.

For many years, WEA offered working-class men and women an affordable opportunity to access university-level education. Many Cantabrians took advantage of this to change professions or improve their careers.

Over time, as university education became accessible to more people, our focus changed to improving quality of life through life-long learning. The courses we offered changed too, becoming less academic, shorter, and more interest-based. We expanded our arts, music, and dance offerings.

A rich history of activism & passion for social justice

Canterbury WEA has always been a space for people who want to make our world better. We have a long connection with local activists. Suffragists, prohibitionists, and the peace movement all found a home here.

Today, our affordable room hire for not-for-profits means WEA is still a hub for activist organisations. SAFE, XR, Forest & Bird, 350 Christchurch, CAFCA and Keep our Assets Canterbury all meet here to work for a better future.

Educational innovation is in our DNA

In 1926 we began sending lecturers to rural areas with boxes of lecture notes, books, and slides. In the 1930s we ran a traveling library. Other progressive projects included prison lectures, an adult literacy programme, the Book Discussion Scheme (now an independent trust still going strong today) and the Wider Horizons programme of adult education for retired people.

Today, we’re a thriving educational community in the heart of Christchurch. We’re still committed to making education accessible to everyone, and to tackling the issues of our times: community, environment, and the future security of planet and people.

The Canterbury WEA began Te Reo Māori courses in 1952 with an elementary course on reading, writing and pronunciation. The first course attracted 73 students, all non-Māori, although a few Māori students joined later classes. The WEA was then the only Christchurch provider of Māori language courses. The image shows Lae Royal during his elementary Māori language class in 1970. He was also president of the WEA Māori Club and worked for the Department of Māori Affairs.

Pitching in to Renovate a New Home

The Canterbury WEA purchased the property at 59 Gloucester St for 9,500 pounds in 1957. The private home had eight rooms, seven chimneys and the remains of a bell system for summoning the servants. It had belonged to a Christchurch doctor, AE Talbot. Before the purchase there was much discussion about whether the WEA could afford it and it was followed by countless hours of voluntary work to turn it into a suitable home and to pay off the mortgage. The WEA volunteers are shown renovating the newly acquired building in 1958. The group includes Lincoln Efford (front right) and Allen Dingwall (left).

Images from the Canterbury WEA's past

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