One Page - Supporting each other

Ian Merrill
April 11, 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.


Supporting each other


I often write about the relationships between mentors and learners as they progress through our Turning Pages and Count Me In programmes. These human connections hold Shannon Trust’s work together, helping learners to gain confidence and giving mentors a feeling of satisfaction and self-worth.


Another relationship that Shannon Trust depends on for our work to thrive is with HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). We share a key aim, which is to help people change their lives and reduce reoffending. Learning plays a key role in rehabilitation. It can transform the individual and have a positive effect on those around them.


Regular One Page readers will know that over half the people in prison struggle to read and/or do basic maths. This limits those individuals as they navigate daily life, such as, following instructions, filling in forms, and sharing messages with friends and family. It can also exclude them from some of the education and training schemes available in prison, which can lead to skills and qualifications that help catalyse a new start after release


This is where Shannon Trust operates, working alongside prison, education and library staff. Our informal peer-led approach helps those who have found it difficult to engage with conventional classroom literacy and numeracy teaching before. And our learning materials allow learners to repeat exercises as often as they want.


Getting the basics right and building confidence is enough to encourage our learners to see that ‘education is for them’. We know what a powerful springboard our programme is. Many Shannon Trust learners take up further education and training, because of their new-found skills and confidence.


It is because of the people around them that learners can gain this confidence.


Over the last couple of years, we have been able to appoint dedicated facilitators for individual prisons, meaning there is a member of staff, supported by our volunteers, on hand to lead the delivery and development of our programmes. Facilitators build relationships with HMPPS teams, mentors and learners, and raise Shannon Trust’s profile in those prisons.


I have been able to see this first hand. Before Easter, I attended a Shannon Trust celebration event at HMP Pentonville, alongside prison staff, our own local team and lots of our mentors and learners – some of their families and friends were visitors too. We hold these celebrations to mark our learners’ progress. They are an opportunity for people to reflect on how they have developed and feel a sense of achievement. Family members can feel proud too, seeing their loved ones doing something different, whether that’s starting to learn or giving their time, patience and encouragement to help someone else. I always enjoy these occasions. They remind me what an impact we can have.


At the HMP Pentonville event, I was struck by Ladi’s commitment to his learning. He recently finished all 5 of our Turning Pages manuals and has become an avid, independent reader. He is from Punjab originally and was motivated to follow our programme so that he can communicate with his daughter, who only speaks English.


I also met one of our mentors, Anton, and his girlfriend who was able to visit for the celebration. Anton finds great pleasure in helping others, and his girlfriend is really proud of all he is doing.


The experiences of people like Ladi and Anton are the human face of Shannon Trust’s work. They bring the statistics to life, and show how learning can bring change, satisfaction, enjoyment and a sense of purpose.


Celebration events also give staff working within HMPPS a chance to see what we can all achieve by cooperation and a common vision. We cannot do our work without the support of prison officers. They find a regular quiet space for Shannon Trust study for example, or make sure learners and mentors are unlocked so they can have time together.


As we celebrate the success of our learners, and their mentors, we also celebrate working in partnership with our prison colleagues.


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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