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Southern and Eastern Region


update Annual Conferen ce SPECIAL REPORT

Union learning can change your life‌ just ask Rick Smith!

Investing in health and well-being Unionlearn SERTUC has been helping unions across the region develop health and wellbeing programmes in the 12 months since we published the trailblazing Health, work and well-being toolkit in partnership with regional health groups. This is a vital agenda for unions, their members and the organisations they work for – especially in this era of economic downturn when we are all being asked to do more for less, with all the inevitable physical and mental health problems that accompany such pressures. And like the entire workplace learning agenda, health and well-being at work is a win-win for everyone involved. Unions that promote schemes demonstrate the added value of carrying the union card, offering tangible benefits to members that are particularly important in a period like this when significant pay rises are unlikely to be achievable. Businesses and organisations also reap the rewards of this agenda, by reducing staff turnover, cutting absence rates and boosting productivity with the help of a more contented workforce. Last but not least, individual members and potential members themselves are able to experience the benefits of a more active lifestyle, eating more healthily or stopping smoking and the value of a less reactive response to stress and pressure. This is why this edition of Update highlights some of the organisations that have been developing this agenda, from the South London Healthcare NHS Trust, where health and well-being initiatives are helping staff deal with the pressures of huge upheaval, to New England Seafood, which is boosting its bottom line by investing in the health and well-being of its workforce. Union learning reps have a vital role to play, working with health and safety and other workplace reps, to promote more health and wellbeing initiatives. And the new year always provides an excellent opportunity to encourage people to make a fresh start. Barry Francis, Regional Manager


Eco scheme scoops award

The Green Skills Partnership for London (GSPL) project co-ordinated by unionlearn SERTUC won the learning and skills category in the 2012 Green Gown Awards, which recognise excellent sustainability initiatives in the higher education sector. The joint initiative brings together unionlearn SERTUC, Lewisham College incorporating Southwark College and Jobcentre Plus to develop environmental literacy, know-how and skills among disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. The scheme has already trained 54 people as discussion leaders and 17 participants are set to further progress on the Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) course. “This is an example of a learning and skills network with strong community engagement,” commented the judges of the awards, which are run by the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC). “It represents an outstanding contribution, innovatively providing skills training for hard-to-reach individuals.”

Birkbeck discount pays off More than 750 learners have taken advantage of the unionlearn SERTUC 10 per cent discount on courses at Birkbeck in the current academic year. Figures from the college show that 752 people claimed the discount when they enrolled on courses this autumn, a big increase on the year before. “This is hard evidence of the major contribution we are making, through our partnerships with institutions such as Birkbeck, to helping union members gain the qualifications they need to help themselves and their employers progress,” commented unionlearn Regional Manager Barry Francis.

Meet our first award winners

Photos © Jess Hurd/

Celebrating success (from left): First Division Association learning rep Fran Hunter, Sussex Downs TUC tutor Mark Everden, UNISON steward Anna Williams, FBU learning rep Martin Harding, unionlearn Regional Manager Barry Francis, Unite learning rep John Early, Birkbeck Outreach and Widening Participation Officer Annette McCone, Unite learner Simon Cotton and Unite learning rep Dave Ross.

Southampton Unite member Simon Cotton won the Learner of the Year award and FDA learning rep Fran Hunter was named ULR of the Year at the unionlearn SERTUC annual conference in November. This was the first time the region had recognised the achievements of learners and learning reps in this way.

Simon was shy, frustrated and prone to outbursts of temper when he first started work in the refuse and recycling team at Southampton City Council eight years ago. When offered the chance to take Skills for Life courses in the Unite learning centre at the council, he dug in his heels at first. But now that he has re-started his learning journey, Simon has achieved his Entry Level 3 literacy qualification, with the support of his colleagues. He has also completed the TUC’s shop stewards stage one course and took on the role of health and safety rep two years ago.

Regional ULR of the Year Fran Hunter, who works for Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in London, first took on the role while working on the Falkland Islands, where she reached out beyond the small HMRC operation to help a range of union members and set up out-of-school clubs for local pupils and sea cadets. When she returned to the UK, Fran led the campaign to open the first FDA learning centre at her workplace in Kingsway, and when HMRC decided to move the office to Bush House, she secured management agreement to open a new centre with better facilities – even though the transfer was driven by pressure to save money. Her pioneering initiative has been so successful since it launched two years ago that the union has since opened two more workplace learning centres and is planning another 10. “Fran has added a whole new aspect to the FDA offer on learning,” says FDA General Secretary Dave Penman. • Conference report: pages 8–11

Cream of the crop (left): Fran Hunter collects her ULR of the Year award from Birkbeck’s Annette McCone (right) 3

How healthy is your workplace? ULRs can team up with other workplace reps to help their organisations look after the physical and mental health of their staff.

Photo © Paul Box/

The South London Healthcare NHS Trust, which has been taken into administration, is using a range of health and well-being initiatives to reduce pressures on staff and improve performance during the current period of major upheaval.

The trust, which comprises the Princess Royal in Bromley, Queen Mary in Sidcup and the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, launched a staff health and well-being group in April 2012. With representatives from the unions and the HR department, plus health and safety, physiotherapy, dietetics and infection prevention and control, the health and well-being group oversees a wide range of activities and initiatives across the three sites. Seventy staff took part in a pedometer scheme earlier this year, says Amanda Price, Associate Director Education and Development. The initiative was so successful that one participant who had never been particularly active before was then inspired to take part to join this year’s London to Brighton bike ride, Amanda adds. This summer, the trust ran an Olympic challenge to coincide with London 2012, when people could walk, run or cycle between the three main sites, and a

family fun day. And in the autumn, wellbeing events across the three sites attracted 140 staff. It has also promoted mental health awareness, running ‘mental health first aid’ courses to help people recognise the symptoms of mental health problems, offer initial help and signpost people to professional help. “From a staff side point of view, looking after the well-being of staff enables them to do their work more productively,” says GMB Branch Secretary and South London Healthcare Staffside Chair Denise Webb. HR Associate Director Nicholas Percival believes the health and well-being agenda is going to be particularly important for the trust over the coming period. “This programme is partly about recognising that this is a very tough environment and trying to put into place some support that means that staff have a range of things they can access to help them,” he says.

Virtuous circles at seafood firm New England Seafood, which supplies chilled premium sustainable fish and seafood to supermarkets, shops and restaurants across the UK, has cut staff absence rates and staff turnover since developing a health and well-being agenda in the workplace. As well as establishing a communications forum and offering staff the chance to improve their skills, the


company runs ‘stop smoking’ courses, hosts Kingston Borough Council’s healthy workplace roadshow on site and fund-matches any activities employees organise through the sports and social club. Overall, absence has dropped from over 6 per cent to 3 per cent and staff turnover from 7 per cent to 2 per cent in the past 12 months. “The productivity of the factory this year has gone up every month, the

morale of the workforce is higher and people are more content with the jobs they do – everything indicates that the workforce like what we’ve done,” says Head of HR Viv Sage. It’s a virtuous circle, he points out. “If people are coming into work, we’re not paying them sick pay and we’re not paying somebody else to come in and do their job, and we’re giving the people who work for us more skills so they can be more productive,” he says.

Charter for change Work is underway across unionlearn’s southern and eastern region to promote the Workplace Wellbeing Charter, the national initiative that helps organisations assess where they are and what they could do to improve. In London, 14 employers covering around 50,000 staff were successfully accredited to the London Healthy Workplace Charter standards during the project’s pilot stage, which finished in the autumn. They included three NHS organisations, three local authorities and two large private sector firms, while the charter is now being used as an employee engagement tool in seven London boroughs. During the pilot, participating organisations introduced a range of measures to encourage staff to get more active – by cycling to work, getting off the bus a few stops earlier or using the stairs instead of the lift – while some offered subsidised gym membership. In addition, some organisations set up stop smoking groups, developed alcohol and mental health policies, offered massage in the workplace or provided staff with fresh fruit.

One organisation reduced sickness absence from 6.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent over a two-year period, while another cut staff turnover from 40 per cent to 20 per cent. “Union learning reps can promote training, for example around mental health awareness, and help their branch as a whole look at the well-being of staff and identify what their members might want,” says Greater London Authority Health Policy Officer Laura Austin Croft. • Find out more:

While New England Seafood does not recognise a union, Viv himself has worked in many factories where he believes unions have played a useful role. “I have worked in unionised factories probably more than I have in non-union factories, so I do recognise the good work unions do, particularly on the learning agenda – I think unions are very good at that now,” he says.

Helping people with mental health issues

The Herts Trade Union Learning Centre (HTULC) has teamed up with local mental health charity Guideposts Trust to offer employability skills to help people with mental health issues back into the world of work. “Guideposts wanted to set up a job club for its clients and asked us if we were willing to hold it here as they didn’t have any IT equipment,” explains Unite Project Development Officer Eileen Francis. “I organised a six-week taster course around employability skills with outside speakers from the National Careers Service (NCS) and unionlearn, which also included practical activities, such as writing and storing their CVs on the NCS website.” The course was so successful that the 10 participants are returning to the learning centre in the new year for a self-led job and learning club, where they can further develop their CV writing skills, run job searches or look for an educational course or a voluntary position. In addition, Guideposts Trust has asked the centre to run the taster course for more clients in the future. The new partnership has proved very positive for the centre, says Eileen. “One of our aims is to work more with people living in Watford, so that has worked well,” she says.


Q&A CSP Director of Employment Relations and Union Services Lesley Mercer, the first TUC President to come from a combined professional body and trade union, is keen to use her new role to spread the message that learning and skills is a vital part of union work that can help lift us out of recession.

Taking the skills route out of recession How did you feel when you were elected TUC President in September? I’m very proud both for myself and for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) to be the first president elected from a combined professional body and trade union – and everyone in the CSP has been delighted too. And now that Frances O’Grady has taken over from Brendan Barber, I’m looking forward to working with the TUC’s first female general secretary.

What have been the highlights of your first few months in the role? The first three months have flown by, and I have chaired, hosted and spoken at a wide range of events, including TUC meetings, obviously, but also a Lib-Dem conference fringe, a climate change conference, a European Commission meeting, a seminar on equality, a conference on pensions, the Hyde Park rally on 20 October, dinner with the Bank of England governor, a Latin America conference, the annual NHS awards ceremony, several retirement events and many more. They have all been opportunities to take forward TUC messages, especially about the economy and the need to invest in learning and skills to help us get out of recession. Coming from a health union background, I’ve also been looking for opportunities to highlight what’s happening in the NHS and my fears about the way in which equality rights are being rolled back.

How important is learning and professional development to the CSP? The CSP was a professional body for 100 years before it became a trade union and a significant part of our time and resources goes on education and training, supporting members and lobbying for more opportunities for Continuous Professional Development (CPD).


In fact, our role in supporting our members with learning and CPD is a significant factor behind 95 per cent of qualified physiotherapists being members of the CSP. I think that link between union membership and union work on learning and skills is very important, and we’re keen to share that both domestically and internationally. We have a number of visits from unions overseas, who are keen to see how we incorporate our professional functions – we had a delegation from Singapore a few months ago who particularly wanted to talk to us about how we support our members professionally and educationally. In addition, we have a large Union Learning Fund project currently underway, primarily aimed at creating and supporting learning champions in as many workplaces as possible.

Can learning and skills play a part in helping the country move out of recession? Whether it’s the TUC lobbying for a different approach to skills issues or union learning reps playing their role in the workplace, learning and skills is an area of union work that rarely makes the newspaper headlines. It might be a hidden aspect of union work but it’s never been more important, and it’s fundamental to our economic future and to the future of unions as well. At the moment, the government seems to be very interested in how and why Germany is weathering the recession better than most European countries – but a key aspect of their success is the way they have always invested heavily in learning and skills, vocationally as well as academically, and they have always had very active partnership projects with trade unions.

As TUC President, what is your message to union learning reps in the region for 2013? Thinking about the discussions we’ve had on the TUC General Council and everything I’ve picked up from attending many events, I think it’s a two-pronged message. First, to stick at it: I can’t think of any more important role for improving the quality of life for union members and positioning the unions as relevant to members’ futures – education is fundamental to quality of life, and absolutely the right thing for unions to be focusing on. Secondly, keep a real focus on the positive outcomes of union learning projects and be prepared to shout about them. I don’t think that’s something that comes naturally to a lot of union reps – we tend to solve a problem and move on, and don’t instinctively shout about our successes. But union learning reps should overcome their reluctance to blow their own trumpet and let everyone know about the positive outcomes for productivity and performance, staff engagement, morale, turnover. All these things are really important for organisations, whether they’re public or private, and union learning reps are playing a vital part in helping to achieve them.

© Theodore Wood

“Education is fundamental to quality of life and absolutely the right thing for unions to focus on.”

Lesley Mercer CV Lesley began her career in the trade union movement as an assistant research officer for the Merchant & Navy Airline Officers Association (now Nautilus International) in 1977, later moving to the Society of Civil & Public Servants (now part of PCS), where she worked as executive assistant and then negotiations officer. She joined the CSP in 1995 as a senior negotiating officer and then assistant director, before becoming the director of its trade union function in 2005. Lesley has been a member of the TUC General Council for 12 years, and has sat on the TUC Executive for the past five. A former employment tribunal panel member, she now sits on the government’s Central Arbitration Committee. Lesley lives with her partner Graham in east London, and commutes into central London by bike whenever she can.


Annual conference Brighton GMB learning rep Rick Smith lit up the unionlearn SERTUC annual conference with his inspirational account of how union learning changed his life.

Telling it like it is Rick Smith concealed his problems with reading and writing for more than 30 years at work, until a learning rep at Brighton Cityclean persuaded him to take a literacy course in the union learning centre. That took some doing, as Rick had had a terrible time at school, where his dyslexia was undiagnosed and his teachers ridiculed him. “I was dyslexic, but nobody knew, so throughout my schooldays, I was told that I was thick, I was stupid, I was worthless and I would never amount to anything,” he told the unionlearn SERTUC annual conference in November. “One of my teachers at secondary school never used my name (he just referred to me as ‘you – stupid boy’) and another once put me in a headlock and rapped his knuckles on my head saying he was ‘trying to drive some knowledge into my thick skull’,” he recalled. Virtually illiterate when he left school


at 17, Rick spent the next 35-plus years trying to hide his problems in a succession of jobs that usually ended when his inability to read came to light. Everything changed after he started work as a road-sweeper in 2008 for Brighton Cityclean, where he found himself one day taking part in a challenging training session. One activity in particular proved problematic. The trainer would outline a workplace scenario and ask participants to choose the best response by standing beside one of several pieces of paper on the floor on which were written the various possible solutions. Every time the best answer would have been ‘fill in a form’, Rick always instead chose ‘talk to management’. When she asked him why, he finally revealed his secret. “Thirty-odd years of emotion beat me and I blurted out, ‘Because you assume I can fill in a form’,” he said. “Fortunately that trainer was also a ULR, but it took her 18 months to

persuade me to take a literacy course at the union learning centre at Hollingdean.” For understandable reasons, Rick resisted every step of the way. “When you’ve had an education like mine, going back into learning is one of the most frightening things you can do because it was such a horrendous experience that nobody in their right mind would volunteer to put themselves through that again,” he said. “But the learning I received at the learning centre was very different.” After gaining his Level 1 and Level 2 literacy qualifications within just 12 months, Rick moved on to complete courses in computing and creative writing and has now signed up to take a Level 3 course. “I’m very proud of the academic qualifications I’ve achieved but the most important thing is that I have learned that I didn’t fail at school – school failed me,” he said.

We’re growing stronger

All photos © Jess Hurd/

“What we do with the union learning programme is not just about the qualifications, it’s life-changing: a few years ago, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to become a ULR or workplace rep, or even to stand up here and speak to you today.”

Rick became a union learning rep himself because he wanted to put something back and help people in the same position he had been in only a few years before, he said. “What we do with the union learning programme is not just about the qualifications, it’s life-changing,” he said. “A few years ago, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to become a ULR or workplace rep, or even to stand up here and speak to you today.” His own learning journey had also helped him better support his own children at school, he said. “My children have some learning difficulties and I wouldn’t have had the confidence to tell their teachers that they are still making the same mistakes my teachers made with me,” he revealed. “Last term, I had a teacher tell me that dyslexia does not exist, it’s just an excuse for laziness: not a lot has changed – so we need to change it.”

If workplace learning continues to progress up the agenda in much the same way as health and safety once did, it will account for 25 per cent of union work, unionlearn Director Tom Wilson told this year’s annual conference.

Unions are expanding their investment in learning, Tom Wilson told the unionlearn SERTUC conference

“In 15 years’ time, learning will make up a quarter of what unions do,” he forecast, using the growth of health and safety as a guide. Already 50 per cent of the funding for union learning on average comes from unions themselves. The business case for union learning was the fundamental reason why the government continued to fund it, he pointed out. But it was also about more than the business case. “It’s about improving the lives of working people, upholding the traditions of the trade union movement to make people’s lives better,” he said.

Do something different Tricia Hartley, the director of the Campaign for Learning (CfL), which runs Learning At Work Day (LAWD) and the Family Learning Festival, urged learning reps to think out of the box when it came to running workplace learning events.

Organising off-the-wall events encourages greater participation in workplace learning, said CfL Director Tricia Hartley

“Do something that is off the wall, do something active and get your bosses involved,” she said, pointing out that one group in the Courts Service had organised a tea bag folding session to encourage coworkers to try something new. Tricia offered the CfL’s backing to all the learning reps in the region. “We’d like to offer advice and support, and to hear from you to see if there is anything we can do to help – we’re all in this together!” she said.


Annual conference

Regardless of your experience at school, union learning can take you all the way to the top, Unite Assistant General Secretary Gail Cartmail told this year’s annual conference. All photos © Jess Hurd/

You can make it with your union Unionlearn Board member Gail Cartmail told this year’s conference that she would never have become Unite assistant general secretary, a member of the TUC General Council or a Commissioner on the UK Commission on Employment and Skills without her extensive trade union education. “I left school without any academic qualifications and all that I have accomplished has been entirely due to trade union training, trade union education and all that is provided for by unions I have been a member of,” she pointed out. After an inauspicious start to an apprenticeship in hairdressing (“don’t ever ask me for a short back and sides!”), Gail began working in graphics and publishing. But when she found out that the person she sat next to earned more simply because he was a man, Gail took out her first union card and organised the workplace – and went on her very first reps’ course shortly afterwards. 10

It was the beginning of a steady progress through union education, which eventually enabled her to apply for a job for which a degree was a requirement when the employer acknowledged that all her union learning was equivalent to a university qualification. “That is obviously why I have a passion for union learning,” she told the ULRs at the conference. “You are our union learning leadership, doing the job you do, creating opportunities at work for people like me.” As a member of the unionlearn Board, Gail was particularly pleased that the number of learning agreements had increased despite the economic downturn and delighted that new union learning centres continued to be opened – including the Unite learning centre at Southampton City Council. “Both those examples show that even in a double-dip recession, we’re on the ball, we’re raising issues, we can win for our members in the

workplace,” she argued. Gail said that one of the central planks of achieving the kind of growth that could provide a real alternative to austerity would be setting up more highquality Level 3 and 4 apprenticeships. “We have to convince this government and the next that they must use the procurement lever to write into contracts a requirement on training and upskilling and high-quality apprenticeships: if they can do it in Germany and not get sued by the European Union or the Commission, then we can do it in the UK,” she argued. Gail finished by quoting Unite member Sally Rose, who had recently finished a four-year engineering apprenticeship at Heathrow. She and Gail had both spoken at a unionlearn event at this year’s TUC Congress. “Sally encapsulated the essence of learning by concluding the description of her learning journey with the words, ‘With all I have learned, I really believe I can do anything’,” Gail said.

Recognising achievement In addition to the award-winners reported on page 3, UNISON South East Energy Branch steward Anna Williams, who works in the EDF Energy call centre in Hove, was highly commended in the Learner of the Year awards and FBU learning rep Martin Harding, who works in the Cambridge Fire and Rescue Service, was highly commended in the ULR section. Shortly after enrolling on the TUC Diploma in Employment Law last year, Anna began to feel tired and unwell and eventually had to undergo surgery to replace her pacemaker in the spring. Despite the operation and the complications that followed, Anna

UNISON’s Anna Williams and FBU’s Martin Harding were highly commended in the learner and ULR awards

completed the course with the help of Branch Education Co-ordinator Vicki Gibbs and unionlearn Curriculum Leader Mark Everden at Sussex Downs College and graduated this summer. “I feel proud of what I have achieved,” Anna says. “I love learning and helping/supporting where necessary, building bridges between employees and the company.” Martin has managed and led four management courses at Level 2 and Level 3 working in partnership with the Management Centre at Wigan and Leigh College, which has taught a total of more than 300 fire and rescue staff across the country over the past three years. Martin’s complete commitment to all

the course members and college staff involved on his courses has helped ensure more than 90 per cent success rates in the recruitment, retention and achievement of those taking part – and he has completed both courses himself. As well as working incredibly hard in his own area, he is also now providing support to adjoining regions and has already encouraged another ULR to start a new Level 2 management course. “His conduct and professionalism have been outstanding,” commented Wigan and Leigh College tutors Aiden Murphy and Anne Morton. “We have found him to be extremely organised, approachable and always willing to help.”

That’s quality! Unionlearn Regional Manager Barry Francis signs the MoU with Debbie Hayes from the University of Greenwich

Working together Unionlearn SERTUC signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the University of Greenwich and another with Community Draught Busters at the annual conference. “We’re delighted to be here, as we share the belief with unionlearn in the importance of giving people a second chance,” explained Debbie Hayes, the

Director of the Partnership Division, who signed the MoU with unionlearn Regional Manager Barry Francis. Brixton-based Community Draught Busters works to eradicate fuel poverty and develop community energy champions. “We hope this partnership will be fruitful in the future,” commented Sibylle Mansour.

Unionlearn Director Tom Wilson (centre) presents the Quality Award to Beverley Nolker and Gareth Williams from Eastchurch POA learning centre

Eastchurch Prison Officers’ Association learning centre, Oakland Training and Cambridge Regional College all received unionlearn Quality Awards in recognition of the excellence of their work supporting union learning.


Contacts Unionlearn Southern and Eastern Region

020 7467 1251

Regional education office

020 7467 1284

© Museum of London

Congress House Great Russell Street London WC1B 3LS

Exploring the past to secure the future

@unionlearnsertu Regional Manager Barry Francis

Regional Coordinator Jon Tennison

Community and Trade Union Learning Centre Manager Phil Spry

Senior Union Support Officers Mick Hadgraft Stuart Barber

Union Support Officers Adrian Ryan Oreleo Du Cran Joanna Lucyszyn

Field Worker Jane Warwick

Regional Education Officers Rob Hancock Theresa Daly

Administration Sonia Dawson Johanna Garcia Jaspal Ghtoray Alex Jenkins Tanya Nelson

The eastern, London and south-east regional learning committees of communications union CWU explored informal learning and the history of trade union education at a joint event at the Museum of London in October. London Met University Senior Lecturer in Trade Union Studies Richard Ross offered an overview of the history of workers’ education, looking at the role of radical organisations such as the National Council of Labour Colleges (NCLC), whose badge featured a question mark meaning, ‘Always question those in power’. Graeme Brindred, until recently the lead ULR at Norwich Mail Centre, took participants through the family history resources available online, quoting US social activist Howard Zinn’s remark, ‘If you don’t know history, it’s as if you were born yesterday’. CWU tutor Nick Nicholls said that ULRs could use their own knowledge and experience to integrate and form links and partnerships with other organisations in the community. Museum of London Programming Manager (Adult Learning) Julie Carr explained how the learner was at the centre of the activities delivered in the Museum, which offers a range of adult learning, including accredited courses, history groups, pocket histories and recreational short course creative activities. Unionlearn SERTUC ran an information stall at the event, alongside the British Postal Museum and Archive, BT Archive, TUC Library Collection, Community Service Volunteers in Norfolk and UK Online, and delegates were able to explore the galleries for themselves after the final presentations. • Find out more about adult learning opportunities at the Museum of London: Whats-on/Adult-courses/

Diary dates Friday 1 March: Green skills event at the Brighthelm Centre, North Road, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1YD. Keynote speaker: Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP Monday 18 March: Health, work and well-being event at Congress House. Keynote speaker: Louise Aston, Workwell Director, Business in the Community

Cover photo of Rick Smith © Jess Hurd/


SERTUC Update Winter 2013  
SERTUC Update Winter 2013  

Annual Conference Special Report