A home away from home
Ask any one of the women in English language teacher Angela Singhate’s ‘Tell in Parents’ class in Queen’s Park how learning to speak English has changed their lives and you are met with a loud chatter in English from students eager to put their learning into practise.
Supported through a £4,000 Better Lives Community Grant from west London homes care and support provider, Octavia, the Tell it Parents network help students improve their reading, writing, listening, speaking and employability skills.
Student Suher says: “Since starting the English classes, I now feel confident when taking part in everyday conversations wherever I go. I am able to help my children with their reading and go to the doctors and shop unassisted.”
Many of the female students cite their children as a reason for learning English – but for most it’s more than being able to have a meaningful conversation at parents’ evening or help with homework.
English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) teacher Angela is proudly aware of how much free English lessons and support from this west London charity has improved the lives of the women in her class.
Angela says: “We offer the classes – but it’s also about the community and peer support available at our drop-ins. It is about bringing isolated mothers together so that they can see that what they are going through isn’t unusual.”
Reminiscing on their time in the UK, the women describe some of the hardships that resulted from moving abroad and learning to adjust in a new country.
Asma says: “During the week, I was left alone in the house. My husband went to work, my children went to school and I did not know anyone from my neighbourhood. I was nervous to leave the house because my English was poor. Being at home all the time was lonely and the days went by slowly. Tell it Parents community-based learning gave me the opportunity to spend time with other people, learn English and make friends.”
An Ipsos Mori report commissioned by Octavia in 2017 found that ethnic minorities are significantly less likely to report feeling in tune with others often or some of the time. Informed by these findings, Octavia’s Better Lives Community grant aims to combat this social isolation through supporting local groups that foster community links for those in need. With Tell It Parents, a grassroots organisation, set up with the ethos that ‘It takes a whole community to raise a child’, these connections have evolved into lasting friendships.
Suher says: “Tell it Parents feels like a second home – it’s comforting to have a space where I can share the burden of my problems with other women who understand how I feel.”
Being a non-English speaker can have other implications for parents in the UK. Moroccan born Nadia explains some of the strains associated with trying to manage paperwork and formal correspondence in a foreign language.
“Letters and bills were stacking up and I felt very overwhelmed and unsure where to start. Improving my reading and writing has helped me create a routine where I can respond to emails and pay my bills on time.”
While over 50% of the students have never studied English formally, for some this class provides a second chance to learn the language. Family responsibilities and frequent hospital appointments meant that the demanding commitment of formal college education could not fit with Soumaya’s busy home life.
“Shortly after starting college I had to quit because I was not meeting the minimum attendance requirements. I am grateful that these lessons are held in a flexible place that allow parents to come whenever they can.”
Improving their English has boosted their confidence, empowering the women to set a diverse range of goals for themselves. From working as a teaching assistant to volunteering in a shop, their aspirations are underpinned by a shared desire to speak fluent English.
Soumaya says “As non-English speaking women, we need to push ourselves. It is easy to become stuck in a rut and cut yourself off from the world, but these classes have helped me to realise that I need to make learning English my number one priority. I have been living in the UK for over 25 years before I took action, but this class has motivated me to go back to college and get a paper qualification, especially now that my children are starting to grow up and I have more spare time.”
Akhi’s testimony to just how life changing these classes can be.
Angela shares her story: “When Akhi first arrived, she was very nervous, and her English was very limited. 10 months down the line, she can easily engage in conversation and is now working at a local branch of Savers.”
The students are in unanimous agreement that the classes have made living in the UK much easier.
Fatima says: “I had been looking for support for a long time but there was nowhere to go. It’s not so bad when your children are young, but when you get to secondary school there really isn’t much out there and it can be a challenging time. I was so relieved when another parent told me about this place. I recommend it by word of mouth to any non-English speakers I meet.”
About the Better Lives Community Grant
Octavia’s Better Lives Community Fund provides grants of up to £5,000 to fund work with residents of Westminster/and or the Royal Borough of Kensington that builds social connections for people at risk of isolation and loneliness. Set up in 2018, the grant is part of the organisation’s wider work that aims to help thousands of Londoners live happily, independently and with the local support they need. Funds have been awarded to a wide range of organisations and projects in a mix of smaller and larger grants. This year’s recipients include: Adventures Play Hub, Avenues Youth Club, Hornimans Adventure Playground, Kensal Rise Library, Kongolese Centre for Information and Advice, Solidarity Sports, Tell it Parents’ Network and Youth Action Alliance.
COVID-19 service update
Tell it Parents continue to host group gardening sessions and see people 1:1 for support with form filling, housing enquiries and written correspondence. Whilst no formal group activity has resumed to date, they are planning to host informal English conversation mornings outside over the summer.
Octavia helps thousands of people in central and west London through providing affordable homes, care, and community support.
Established by the social reformer Octavia Hill in 1865, we manage around 5,000 homes, including seven extra care schemes for older people.
We empower people of all ages and backgrounds by connecting them with opportunities for a better life, through befriending, financial advice, confidence building activities and help with training and employment.
 C Garrett, M Blake, A Byrne, “Ipsos SRI, Social Isolation in London”, Ipsos Mori, 8.