One Page: Reflections – on our progress, and our plans

Ian Merrill
June 4, 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.


Reflections – on our progress, and our plans


In late April, I attended a launch event for the book Letters for the Ages from Behind Bars edited by James Drake and Edward Smyth. The book is a collection of letters written over the last 2,000 years by people as varied as St Paul, Anne Boleyn, Dostoevsky, and the contemporary Chinese artist Ai Waiwai.


What links these letter-writers is that they were all detained at some point in their lives. They wanted to share their feelings and reflect on their experiences with people ‘outside.’


People in prison have a lot of time to reflect, and of course being able to communicate is a basic human need. The idea of Shannon Trust sprang from letters from behind bars. In the mid 90’s, Christopher Morgan was inspired to start our work when he learned about the low levels of literacy in prisons from his pen friend, life sentenced prisoner Tom Shannon.


Since the creation of Shannon Trust, we have achieved a lot. And now seems like a good time for us to reflect on these achievements and to look at our plans for the future.


We launched our 3 year strategy in January 2022 and now we are thinking about the next one. To succeed as an organisation and best serve our learners, we try to hold true to our roots while we continue to develop. Preserve the core, stimulate progress.


Since we launched our current strategy, our staff team has grown to 100 people, with employed facilitators in 70 prisons. This means there is someone on the ground, championing our work as their day to day priority. Our facilitators help us support more learners and can recruit and coordinate more mentors. Alongside our volunteers, our facilitators are building the quality and consistency of our learning offer and give us a regular presence in the prisons where they work. Driven by this growth in the team, I am confident that during 2024, we will engage over 10,000 learners. That is a lot of life chances improved through learning to read and working with numbers.


Our move to add a numeracy programme to our offer saw us merge with fellow charity One to One Maths. We used off-the-shelf textbooks to get started, while developing our own numeracy programme, Count Me In. This is now used in 50 prisons, with more due to adopt it in the coming months. The Department of Education have commissioned us to run a randomised control trial on the effectiveness of Count Me In later this year, and I am looking forward to seeing the results of that.


Another high point has been Shannon Trust winning the Ministry of Justice’s Prison Leavers Innovation Challenge, with our digital partner Yalla. This allowed us to develop the Turning Pages Digital tool, which we piloted in the Kent, Surrey and Sussex probation region. Digital tools can help learners continue with our Turning Pages programme when they move back into the community.


In the community, we have run several pilots, adapting the approach we use in prisons for non-custodial settings. Our experience helping adults who have struggled with traditional classroom learning gives us real hope that our literacy and numeracy programmes can make a real difference whether you are in the criminal justice system or not. These new skills may help someone get a better job, develop their education, help their children or grandchildren with homework, or find everyday things like menus, forms and bills less stressful.


All this means we can be pleased with Shannon Trust’s progress.


There is still much to do, however.


With an increasing prison population, there are more learners we need to reach. We also want to support our mentors and learners as they leave prison. Having the option to continue as a community reading coach, or complete a programme, could give people leaving prison stability and help them adjust to life ‘outside.’


We want to improve the quality of our programmes too and try to increase their impact. Overall, we want to keep pushing the idea that nobody should be left out of learning.


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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