Free action learning programme for Colchester’s creative & digital sector OPEN NOW FOR APPLICATIONS

I’m really excited to be bringing action learning to 37 Queen Street….

I’m a big fan of action learning as a professional development tool; having joined my first set around 10 years ago, it’s something that has really informed my development as a leader and entrepreneur. Having run action learning programmes up and down the country, I’m really excited to now have the chance to run a new programme closer to home, at Colchester’s creative workspace, 37 Queen St.

Between June-December 2019, I’ll be setting up 4 action learning ‘sets’ for everyone from freelancers and those running their own small businesses, to those working in larger creative organisations. Entirely free, the aim through the sets is to help nurture the development of strong peer learning and sharing culture within Colchester’s creative community. Each set will have 8-10 members, and this blog aims to tell you all you need to decide whether you want to apply for a place in a set.


So, what is action learning, and why do people in the creative sector find it useful?

Action learning involves working on real problems, focusing on learning and actually implementing solutions.  It is a form of learning by doing. For me, being part of an action learning set has been the single most useful investment I’ve made in my professional development in the past decade, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Bizarre as it sounds, action learning was actually invented in the 1940s by a man called Reg Revans, who developed it while he was working for – of all things – the National Coal Board, to help managers learn from each other. Seventy years on, action learning is a form of professional development used worldwide, to bring people together (in groups called ‘sets’) to reflect on the real life professional challenges and opportunities they face.


From my own experience, it’s an incredibly powerful problem-solving process

From my own experience, action learning can really stretch your thinking and is great for tackling the isolation that often goes with running your own creative business or managing your career. And it’s a really good fit with the ‘think and do’ approach that underpins everything we do at the hub. 

It ‘sits’ particularly well with people who enjoy peer-based learning, and has become increasingly popular in the creative sector in recent years, where being able to critically reflect on your own creative and business practice is really important, and where peer support is key. I think the key to its success in our sector is that action learning sets provide a structured process for reflecting on experience with a group of peers. There’s a rigour and discipline, in that members are not there to offer advice to each other, but rather to use insightful questions to unlock each other’s thinking and open up reflection. It’s not about giving answers, but about helping people to find them themselves, through careful listening, asking open questions and providing thoughtful feedback. Reg Revans – the man I mentioned who invented action learning – has a great description that chimes loudly with me:


“Action learning is based on the idea that people have an unlimited capacity to learn from experience but a limited capacity to learn from being taught.”


What’s the story with this Colchester programme? When’s it happening?

As I mentioned, I’m going to be facilitating four ‘sets’ between June and December 2019. Each ‘set’ will have 8-10 members, and meet 4 times at 37 Queen St in Colchester – some during the day (11.30am-2.30pm) and others in the evenings (6.00-9.00pm), depending on what works best for people. At present, the provisional dates are:

Set 1: 12 June, 17 July, 11 September, 23 October

Set 2: 18 June, 23 July, 10 September, 22 October

Set 3: 12 September, 10 October, 14 November, 12 December

Set 4: 25 September, 16 October, 13 November, 11 December

Experience tells me that some people will prefer daytime and others evenings, so when people apply they can let me know which works best for them, and I’ll do my best to schedule the sets accordingly. If there’s enough demand, I’ll look instead at running one or two of the sets at weekends. It’s the first time I’ve run this kind of programme in Colchester, so it’ll be interesting to see which times work best!


So, what will we actually do?!

In line with standard action learning practice, each set will meet for 3 hours, so that everyone who wants to ‘present’ an issue for exploration gets the chance to do so. Trust us, the time flies and it is generally a highlight of everyone’s week!

In the first session, I’ll take people through the principles of action learning, and then – because action learning is about learning through doing – we’ll get straight into our first couple of ‘set’ discussions, which I’ll facilitate. In the follow up 3 sessions, participants will get the chance to facilitate and to present, so that by the end of the programme each set member will have the skills, confidence and understanding to continue, either in the set they joined or in a new one they might want to create themselves.


Who’s this for – freelancers or employees?

This programme is for ANYONE who works in the creative or digital sector – from the newest freelancer on the block to the most established serial entrepreneur and senior managers. Like lots of networks, action learning sets thrive on diversity.

My own experience is that I’ve often learned the most from set members who are the least like me – from different disciplines, different backgrounds and different types of organisations or professional existences. If you have any doubts or questions about whether it’s for you, just get in touch (see below for contact details).


What will I get from being in a set?

Loads. But if you want the long answer…Across your 4 sessions, you’ll get inside how action learning works, present about your own challenges, opportunities and dilemmas, help your fellow set members unlock their own new insights, and learn how to become an action learning facilitator yourself. Through taking part you’ll gain…

  • New insights and solutions
  • A new peer network – a go to bunch of peers you can trust to help you fathom stuff out
  • New skills that will help you develop your business and career
  • The knowledge, experience and confidence to set up your own action learning set


If I get a place in a set, how much will it cost to take part?

Nothing! The sets are part of the EU funded SECCADS (South East Creative Cultural And Digital Support) programme which provides business support, networking and clustering opportunities for the creative sector across the South East, and SPACE Studios have very generously gifted us the use of their meeting room, so it’s entirely free to join. 

All we ask is that you commit to taking part in all 4 of your ‘set’ meetings, so that you and your fellow members get the most from the experience. We’ll also ask for a refundable £25 deposit, as experience tells us that this reduces the chances of participants not completing the programme.


The deadline to apply is 2 June, so how do I find out more or apply? 

Applications are now open to join Sets 1 & 2, that run mid-June – October. The deadline for applying is midnight on 2 June, and you can do that by completing this really simple form.

It’ll take about 5-10 minutes – tops, and should be easy to do. Any questions, do get in touch though.

There are just 8 places in each set, and it’s important that we get a diverse mix of people in each set, so there is likely to be some competition for places. We’ll aim to get back to you by 5 June to let you know the outcome of your application.

Applications to join Sets 3 & 4, starting in September, will open on 24 June, and the deadline will be midnight on 22 July. I’ll be promoting that a bit nearer the time.


That’s all folks – I think – but let me know if you have any questions!

Hopefully, this gives you all the info you need, but if you have any questions, do get in touch. You’ll find me on email at or on twitter at @CuriousJuliaP.


A big thank you to our funders who are making this possible! We  couldn’t have done this without you!

And thanks to our venue partner too!