One Page: Bringing people together and making things happen

Ian Merrill
February 12, 2024

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.


Bringing people together and making things happen

Shannon Trust is all about people taking opportunities to change their lives, whether that’s in the criminal justice system or the wider community. We help our learners develop reading skills and do basic numeracy, hoping they can build a different future for themselves and their families.

So much of this depends on our volunteer mentors and coaches. They are willing to give up their time to help someone else. Some get all the fulfilment they need watching learners progress through our Turning Pages and numeracy programmes. Others are keen for more, including taking on the role of mentor coordinator.

It is a task that calls for people skills. For example, in a prison setting someone’s perception and insight helps them identify and encourage suitable mentors, work with others and notice those who need our support.

Recently, I spent some time with Adam, one of our mentor coordinators, as he prepared for life after release. I have used some of his words for this One Page.


Ian: What drew you to volunteer with Shannon Trust?

Adam: Being a prisoner can be one of the greatest opportunities to transform your life. You get the chance to work on yourself every day, create healthy goals, routines and habits, and gain new skills that give you the confidence to create the life you want.

However, it wasn’t until I started working for Shannon Trust that I realised how challenging this would be for 57% of prisoners who struggle with reading or cannot read.

Reading is central to everything we do. It’s the gateway to new learning, new ideas and new ways of thinking. Therefore, imagine not being able to read a single book from the library to improve your knowledge, enrol in educational courses to gain new qualifications, or prepare for employment and apply for a job.

I couldn’t help but think how frustrating this must be for the prisoners who can’t read, how narrow their horizons must feel at times and how much untapped potential there is sitting inside them just waiting to be unlocked.

Ian: What motivates you as a mentor coordinator?

Adam: When I joined Shannon Trust, I was determined to help as many prisoners as possible and do all I could to help our mentors understand that teaching others to read wasn’t just an activity to pass the time, but a genuine opportunity to help them reshape their lives and build a better future.

This big idea inspired our team of mentors to work harder. We became more creative in our efforts to sign-up new learners and brought new energy to mentoring sessions. We designed systems and processes to make our work more efficient, organised to meet with new prisoners as soon as they arrived to ensure no one slipped through the net, and assisted our learners in progressing onto further education to accelerate their learning.

Ian: You and your team are proactive in making sure those who might need our help know about Shannon Trust, and encourage them to stick with it.

Adam: This approach had a profound impact on the attitudes of our learners. The more they started to believe that learning to read would help them to create their future self, the more inspired they became. They were more engaged during mentoring sessions, more positive about their vison for the future and began to take proactive measures to take control of their own lives.

Ian: I often tell people that our peer-led approach stands out because our volunteers, like our learners, can grow and develop through it. I’m interested if this is something you experience too?

Adam: Working as a mentor coordinator for Shannon Trust has also changed my life in unexpected ways. It’s not only helped me to appreciate the importance of helping others learn and grow, but it’s provided me with a new mindset and a new direction in life that has inspired me to pursue a career in mentoring so that I can continue to help others transform their lives for the better, starting with reading.      



Our mentor coordinators can bridge gaps between learners, mentors and the often hard-stretched prison staff. As well as organising mentor support, they advocate for Shannon Trust and the work we do, building links with the library and education teams.

In my experience, including talking with people like Adam, it is the way our mentor coordinators take on this role that’s their strength – communicating, understanding others’ perspectives, resilience, and taking responsibility.

All this reminds me of something one of our former mentors, David Breakspear, said when he spoke at our 2022 conference: “Shannon Trust transforms lives by providing the opportunity for others to give back,” adding “the rewards are priceless.”

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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