Monday, 13 November 2017

Learn English at Home in Hounslow

This year has been an exciting one for LEAH, as we have started to work for the first time in the Borough of Hounslow. As I write, six of our fantastic team of trained and experienced volunteers have been paired with clients in Hounslow, and have embarked on a year-long journey of weekly home visits to provide language support bespoke to their client. A huge thank you to Anna, Julie, Jill, Lynn, Jeanette and Kim and several further volunteers waiting in the wings to be paired in coming weeks. We are also hugely grateful to our funding partners at the London Borough of Hounslow and the Rayne Foundation.

LEAH has been supporting ethnic minority adults with low levels of English in Kingston since 1982, and we have been working for over 10 years in Richmond. It’s therefore a big moment for us as a small organisation to be beginning work in a new Borough, but we are ready! We have an experienced team of committed staff and trustees and strong systems in place for training and supporting volunteers which mean we are prepared for the challenge. But more than that, we know the work we do is really needed by vulnerable, isolated people (all women to date) in Hounslow.

“It’s exciting to be LEAH’s first ever volunteer working in Hounslow. I can really see the need for LEAH’s work in the borough” Anna, LEAH volunteer. 

ESOL support bespoke to the starting point of the learner and involving 1:1 buddying or mentoring, like that offered by LEAH, has been identified as best practice in low-level language learning (DEMOS, 2014; Greater London Authority, ‘English for All’, 2012), yet there is noone offering this kind of support in many London Boroughs including Hounslow. Our partners in Community Partnerships and Lifelong Learning at the London Borough of Hounslow confirm that there are residents not able to access local education services, often the most vulnerable. Hounslow has high levels of inward migration (30% of households do not have English as a main language) and has 16 pockets amongst the 20% most deprived in the country (using the Indices of Deprivation), compared to 1 such area in Kingston and none in Richmond. 

The picture that this data paints has very much been confirmed by our experiences of working in Hounslow to date. In Kingston and Richmond, we have developed and far-reaching referral networks, including GPs, schools, midwives, health visitors and others. In Hounslow, we started by developing relationships with health visitors alone, and in three months received more referrals than we can support in our initial pilot of 20 clients. What’s more, these clients are highly vulnerable, not only being isolated and with low levels of English as all our clients are, but almost all facing additional challenges including having been trafficked to this country, being victims of domestic violence,  having children with special needs, or living in real poverty without access to public funds. 

As Louise, LEAH’s Head of Programmes puts it “At LEAH we are used to working with very vulnerable clients, but we have really noticed a difference in Hounslow. This has put pressure on the team at LEAH because for every client we’ve worked with referrers and other partner agencies to ensure the client is hooked into the support they need and that the setting is safe for our volunteer. It’s also been emotionally hard work, seeing clients living with distressing situations. However, we are all finding it hugely motivating as well. It’s always true that our clients need our support, but this is even more so with the clients we are working with in Hounslow”. 

Anna agrees that she can really see the difference she makes in working with her client: “N was trafficked to this country and lives in a hostel with her young children. She often cancels at the last moment, and has a lot going on in her life, so progress is slow. But she’s really keen to learn and I’m very glad to be working with her, because she has no family support in the country”. 

It’s just the start of LEAH’s important and challenging journey in Hounslow, watch this space to hear more about our work in LEAH’s third London Borough and what we learn from it. 

Kate Brown, LEAH Director 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Casey Review calls for more investment in English language learning

LEAH's work was given further endorsement yesterday by the Casey Review which states that 'English language is a common denominator and a strong enabler of integration'.   

Dame Louise Casey goes on to call for additional funding for the promotion of English language skills empowering marginalised women, promoting social mixing and tackling barriers to employment for most socially isolated groups. It also recommends that we 'Reduce economic exclusion, inequality and segregation in our most isolated and deprived communities and schools, by improving English language provision through funding for community-based classes.'

At LEAH, we experience first hand the difference learning English can make to women's lives both in our 1 to 1 and small group community classes.

Client T.T. Now I feel more confident when I see the doctor or meet parent in my children’s school.’

Client T.A. ‘At school I have to speak English… At (the) doctor I now speak if my son is sick, it is important.’ 

Client J.A. ‘(I’ve made) very good friends now.  (If) my daughter (is) not well…I go to (the) pharmacist on my own’.

LEAH conversation class client. "We learned a lot from each other..developing our knowledge not only of British culture and lifestyle, but also traditions and customs of other countries". 

Image of Dame Jacqueline Wilson at LEAH literacy class
LEAH helps women from over 30 different countries and when ready (usually after a period of 9-12 months with a 1 to 1 volunteer) brings them together in small classes with creche facilities to help them improve their practical language skills. By enabling friendships to develop where communication is through English, the common language of both parties, we provide yet further opportunities for language skills to be practised and developed. Meeting women from other cultures also reminds us that despite our different languages we are in many other ways much alike, especially for example where our children are concerned. As LEAH's Patron Dame Jacqueline Wilson commented following her visit to one of our literacy classes "It was heart-warming to make friends with such a diverse and determined group of women and to realise how much we all have in common in spite of coming from different countries and cultures."

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

22 years of Chairship remembered by fellow trustee and friend, Joan McConn

Freda with the Mayor of Kingston, Councillor Roy Arora, the Mayoress
and long time supporter Councillor Shiraz Mirza.
Freda  steered LEAH from the early days of chairing meetings of volunteers in the North Kingston Centre old kitchen to overseeing the employment of 6 staff in our own place today.  In fact, both Freda and Jeanette hosted meetings in their own homes for many years too.

Freda was always fully engaged in our work – supporting her own students and everything else that involved: including organising recruitment and training of volunteers, dealing with student referrals; helping run day trips for students and volunteers, and taking along spare clothes or whatever else was needed for children, wrapping presents for the NY Party (how time consuming that was, but always a good way of meeting up with the other volunteers).

Freda with ex trustee Jeanette Hall
Freda has always offered a moderate voice and been very thoughtful in her response to ideas and plans to further LEAH's aims.

Always firm, fair and welcoming to others’ ideas, and excellent at encouraging initiative.

A good listener and delegator, it was as if she followed the maxim “The best way to keep power is to share it, and the best way to influence is to listen”.

I have always thought that Freda seemed to concentrate on getting the basics right.

As anyone who has known her will be aware, she is extremely self-effacing (so much so that finding photographs of her has been difficult!).

Anyway, Freda, I guess that using our talents and leaving a legacy is something we all desire to do and there is no doubt you have succeeded in doing this.

LEAH is a better organisation because of your efforts, and a lovely organisation to be involved in, either as an employee, student, volunteer or trustee.

I am delighted that you have agreed to stay on as a trustee as your knowledge and advice will be invaluable at a time when we are facing many challenges common to voluntary organisations dependent on charity funding.

Freda with Joan at the Guildhall
I am sure I speak for us all when I say it has been a pleasure to know you and work with you and I hope you will find your continuing role as a trustee enjoyable and fulfilling.

Joan McConn
29 January 2016

Monday, 11 January 2016

A conversation with Freda Lambert, chair of LEAH from 1997 to 2015

What do you know about the beginnings of LEAH?

The charity was founded by Joan Summersby, wife of a Methodist minister. She moved with her husband to Kingston from Bedford where there was an English language club. Finding that there was nothing similar in Kingston she decided to start her own. In the beginning it was very much tea and sewing for ladies from the Indian sub-continent but later developed into more of an ESOL organisation.

How did you first get involved with LEAH?
In 1991, I went along to what was then called the Volunteer Bureau which put me in touch with LEAH and Kingston Hospital. They did a good job of matching me up as I’m still involved in both organisations.

What was it like in the early days?
I went on a short training course run by Jenny Arokiasamy at the North Kingston Centre. It was not nearly as comprehensive as the courses LEAH now runs but enough to give me a basic idea. I was then paired up with a young mother who was a refugee from the war in Iraq. Nowadays we have a team of co-ordinators to provide back up and advice but I was left very much to my own devices. I worked with her for about 4 years and she later went on to become a child minder.
After a year of volunteer tutoring I joined the LEAH committee and shortly afterwards took on the role of organising tutor.  This involved taking referrals, visiting  clients, meeting volunteers and matching them up.  I went all over Kingston visiting clients. On one occasion I even interviewed a young man, who was ill, in his bedroom. Of course you didn’t think about your own safety, only now looking back on it do you realise that that probably wasn’t particularly safe. Fortunately we have safe guarding policies in place now.

(Freda then took out her little red book where she has written down all the people she’s been involved with at LEAH. We counted up over 80 people who she’s helped in one way or another during her time at LEAH).

1997 was a milestone for LEAH because it received its first funding grant from Trust for London. This enabled us to take on our first paid co-ordinator and I became Chair of the organisation.

Have there been any stressful moments?
The financing of the charity has always been unpredictable. RBK has been a great supporter with regular small grants, however it was when the Community Fund awarded us a 3 year grant of £184K in 2001 that we were able to really step up our work.  However this funding ceased in 2007 and when other funding bids were unsuccessful we had to make 2 members of staff redundant. That was a real low point.
I’ve also had to do some of the least popular jobs. I remember buying new clothes for a child that had been sick on the bus on our way to Littlehampton one summer!

What have been the highlights?
Gaining our first big grant funding was hugely satisfying.

I’ve made some good friendships with the other committee members particularly Jeanette Hall, Joan McConn and Isabelle Mcgrath who have all been with the charity for a long time.

Receiving the Queens Award in 2008 was quite an experience. There was a ceremony at the Guildhall where we were presented with the award by the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Surrey in all his regalia followed by tea in the Mayor’s parlour. Then four of us (Isabelle, Joan, Sanja Kane (ex-employee of LEAH now at RAK) and myself) were all invited to go to Buckingham Palace for one of the Queen’s garden parties. 

The client parties and trips are hectic (one new year we had over 120 people) but it is always good to see the students, volunteers and their families enjoying themselves and hugely satisfying.

What are the future prospects for LEAH?
It is very pleasing to see how far LEAH has come. The organisation is now run on a very professional footing and this can only continue with the calibre of the new trustees who have recently joined the board. However, with the ongoing influx of refugees from war zones around the world our work always continues to be needed. The 1 to 1 support that LEAH provides is unique and is so important in helping people who have English as a second language make the first steps towards improving their language skills.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Training Week 10

Our final week of training is upon us. Our task this week is to prepare our students to play a board game about Kingston. This is trickier than you might imagine, and our lesson focused on teaching the vocabulary contained within the game instructions and refreshing our students' memories about Kingston's 'hot-spots'! Our students had a lot of fun playing the game. Our course was rounded off with the issuing of Certificates of Achievement to our students, who had worked hard and progressed well with their English over the course of the last ten weeks.

Then we all enjoyed a lovely lunch, for which we each brought a dish, before settling down for our final theory session of the course. This was a very practical session focusing on planning a course of lessons for our students and the resources available to help us do this. We then went on to what monitoring and record keeping was expected for each student. The afternoon was rounded off with the presentation of a Certificate of Achievement to each volunteer tutor. 

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Training Week 9

We are back in the classroom today, teaching a group of Entry 1 learners. This is the second to last teaching practice week with the key objective of our students being able to prepare a short piece of work about their own journeys from their homelands to Kingston. 

We start off with some map work. We show our students iconic pictures of several capital cities, the countries and continents they are in and their orientation (north, south, east, west). Then we gave an example of the journey of Cesar Picton had from Senegal to Kingston in the 18th Century, teaching some key vocabulary relating to this, which would help our students when they were describing their own experiences.

Our students then had the opportunity to practice the new vocabulary in pairs. We all learned a lot about where each person had come from, why they came to Kingston and what they enjoy about living here. There was lots of participation from our learners who seemed to really enjoy this session, and they even gave our volunteer tutors a round of applause at the end of it!

After lunch, when our learners had departed, we settled down for a theory lesson focused on error correction. Specifically, what errors should be corrected, when, how and by whom. Once again, our ESOL tutor Emma, taught us a new and important concept using engaging and memorable techniques. 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Training Week 8

This week we have arranged to meet our students and tutors at Kingston Museum. The group splits into two, half going off on a local history tour of Kingston town centre, while the other half stayed for a guided tour of the Museum. I stayed with the group which toured the Museum and found our guide extremely well informed, using lots of props to help explain the exhibits to our students. There really is something for everyone at the Museum, with exhibits ranging from Bronze and Iron Age artefacts, to the Anglo-Saxon Kings who were crowned in Kingston, and showing how Kingston has changed through more modern decades. Our students were asked to pick their favourite exhibit and write a few sentences, with our help, about what it was and why they liked it. 

When we reconvened after lunch for our theory lesson, the focus this week was on the use of authentic materials in teaching. Authentic materials are those not specifically prepared for teaching purposes, for example, information leaflets, forms, newspapers and recipe books. We were split into small groups, each given different authentic materials and we were asked to consider the challenges posed by the language and layouts used. We then were tasked to come up with solutions to overcome these challenges within the context of a plan for a reading lesson. I found this to be a really useful lesson and one which is likely to be well used by us with our students in the future.