Mentors make the programme!

Ian Merrill
November 1, 2022

Welcome to 'One Page'. In this monthly newsletter, I will talk about the people I have met, and the things I have read or seen relating to Shannon Trust's vision, which is a future where everyone can experience the positive impact of learning. I hope these short pieces will start conversations, generate new ideas, and help our vision become a reality.


Mentors make the programme!


Shannon Trust is all about people taking opportunities to change. We support people to learn to read and do basic maths, so they can build a different and more positive future for themselves and their families. For some, our support helps them to join prison education courses. For others, it is about being able to read a story to their children, understand the forms and notices around them, or write a card to someone in their family.


Reading is a fundamental skill that helps us navigate daily life, whether or not we are in prison.


Our Turning Pages programme revolves around people who can read helping those who can’t. Shannon Trust trains and supports our volunteer mentors to work one to one with learners. This is what makes our peer led approach standout; learners and mentors both have the opportunity to grow, develop and change their futures.


Our reading and maths programmes aren’t part of formal prison education, meaning learners and mentors often have to fit it into their free time. Why might someone be willing to do this?


Of course different people will have different reasons for wanting to get involved. For some, it’s a chance to do something, to break up monotonous weeks; others want to help someone else, knowing how important basic reading and maths skills are; some may see it as a way to give back, or a way to use their time inside positively, perhaps as part of developing new attitudes or ways of thinking.


Billa Nanra saw prison as a chance to change his life. He spoke of his time as a Shannon Trust mentor: “The role I had with Shannon Trust gave me purpose, motivation and drive to help.” That help was for others, but it was also for himself, because it meant doing things that were outside of his comfort zone.


“I learnt so much as a Shannon Trust mentor and then as the mentor coordinator, ”he continues. “They are things I continually develop now, such as communication, building relationships and time management.”


It's easy to see how useful time management and communication skills are. So is the ability to overcome practical problems, such as, the lack of quiet spaces to use, staff shortages and the fact that some in authority in a prison environment will prioritise other things over reading. Our mentors need resilience, patience and persistence to get the job done.


Mentors also need to be able to listen and understand what’s going on for someone else, so they can build rapport. This helps to gain the trust of their learner, who may find it difficult to admit they need help. It also helps them promote Shannon Trust’s work with prison staff, and build the support we need for our work to happen.


David Breakspear, also a former mentor, spoke alongside Billa at our conference earlier this year. He told us how becoming a mentor led to him “living a life free of crime.” He also spoke of how “Shannon Trust transforms lives by providing the opportunity for others to give back,” adding “the rewards are priceless.”


The success of our organisation is in large part down to people taking new opportunities and making changes in their own lives, changes which then ripple out and influence others’ lives, too.


Some of our mentors, like David and Billa, choose to speak about their experiences in the criminal justice system, hoping this will also make a difference. Others use whatever they’ve gained from being a mentor in their own lives, such as, supporting others in their community, being there for friends and family or through the work they do.


Without mentors, Shannon Trust wouldn’t exist.


Please get in touch if anything I have written resonates with you; whether you agree, disagree or you have a suggestion for how we can improve what we do.

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