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Sector-leading partnership pilot helps service users to learn to read

Amy Longstaff
27 July 2021

A number of sector-leading organisations are joining forces to tackle low literacy levels amongst service users, with a view to improving overall outcomes. Learning to read can help improve people’s confidence, enable better interpersonal relationships and give them the confidence to move forward with their own personal goals.

It is currently estimated that around 7.1 million people in England (around 16.1% of the population) currently struggle with their literacy. Shannon Trust, a charity working in prisons across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, has been enabling prisoners to read for over 20 years, using a unique phonics-led approach to learning. Through one-to-one mentoring, prisoners who can read teach those who can’t.

Now, for the first time, Shannon Trust have partnered with key providers across the sector, to pilot their reading programme in the community. Partners currently include WDP, Forward Trust, St Giles Trust and Nelson Trust.

Scott Haines, Community Pilot Manager at Shannon Trust explained:

“We’ve worked successfully with thousands of people, many of whom have previously been reluctant to access support in this area, often through fear or stigma, or previous negative experiences of the education system. There are a lot of people who go to great lengths to hide or manage this problem, and who are reluctant to accept help.

“Working closely with our partners, we will conduct a number of pilots to look at how our reading programmes can be adapted to meet the needs of service users. We hope to train their staff, volunteers and peer mentors to better identify those who may require help in this area, and to deliver Shannon Trust reading sessions in tandem with existing support.”

Shannon Trust’s current programme within prisons sees 90% of learners not only improving their reading, but actively taking up further education opportunities.

Through the partnership, organisations are hoping to see outcomes improve overall for service users. Learning to read not only enables their beneficiaries to navigate day-to-day life with more ease, but it also equips them with the skills to better engage in group work, keywork sessions and take full advantage of the range of programmes and services on offer within partner agencies. Our hope is that by working together on this vital initiative, service users will be more empowered to take advantage of the broad range of opportunities available to them, and will go on to fulfil their own personal goals.

The community pilot will offer those learning to read one-to-one mentoring. Sessions are short, and learners work at their own pace, in a safe, private and non-judgmental environment, with no exams or tests.

Scott continues: “We know that reading is a vital skill, and when people learn, it can make a huge difference to their lives. They’re able to complete the everyday tasks that many of us take for granted, such as managing bills or accessing the internet. It can boost their chances of finding employment, or they can take a more active role in their children’s education. And for those with drug and alcohol problems, these achievements can be important building blocks in recovery.”

One of the first partners in this new pilot is leading drug and alcohol charity, WDP. Yasmin Batliwala, Chair of WDP, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Shannon Trust and, especially to be the first of their community pilots to be launched.  Support with reading will help users of our services toward a more inclusive experience of living in their communities.  Literacy skills can lead to a greater participation in work, family life, and directly improve health.  Developing literacy skills will give them the choice to feel part of an increasingly digital, social-media world, rather than be automatically excluded.  These skills are a fundamental part of how we understand, communicate, and interpret the world around us and to this end, these skills, have the potential to increase the motivation of our service users in their recovery journey.”

This approach to working in partnership is fundamental to Shannon Trust, as CEO Ian Merrill states:

“Developing our work in the community is a real priority for Shannon Trust.  The partnerships we are now forming to deliver our reading programme outside of prisons are an exciting development and bode well as we seek to reach many more people and bring the power of reading to them.

"Not only do we think this work is much needed, we also think it will be highly effective, given the excellent relationships we have with service users. Our aim is to help those who might normally slip under the radar or refuse help in this area, enabling them to take positive steps forward."