Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Upfront: Books to inspire

October 07 2014
Luke, St Mungo’s Broadway client, with Adrian Bailey MP, and Kyla Kirkpatrick, Director of Skills and Employment at St Mungo’s Broadway Luke, St Mungo’s Broadway client, with Adrian Bailey MP, and Kyla Kirkpatrick, Director of Skills and Employment at St Mungo’s Broadway
New library aims to increase homeless people's literacy

A leading UK homelessness charity launched a library aimed at inspiring homeless people to improve their reading, writing and numeracy skills last month to mark International Literacy Day.

Run by St Mungo’s Broadway, the new resource has opened at the charity’s Recovery College in Southwark and aims to help its clients to help them to improve their literacy skills and move on with their lives.

Its shelves include books nominated by supporters including To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s powerful tale of racial inequality in America’s Deep South, and 1984, George Orwell’s tale of a state control. Literacy classes and support groups are also on offer.

According to the charity, 51 per cent of all homeless people have barriers to basic literacy skills and struggle to complete everyday tasks such as filling in forms and legal documents.

The chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee, Adrian Bailey, who officially opened the library last month, said he had been “bowled over” by the work being done to promote literacy.

The launch of the new library facility also coincided with the BIS committee’s publication of a report into adult literacy and numeracy. It called for the government to do more to support the literacy and numeracy needs of adults, including unemployed people.

Kyla Kirkpatrick, St Mungo's Broadway's Director of Skills and Employment, said: "For many people who are homeless, trouble with IT, maths and English severely hampers their training and employment prospects and makes recovering from homelessness even harder.

“We welcome the Government’s pledged to prioritise support for the most disadvantaged, but mainstream education and skills programmes still have a long way to go before they work well for people who are homeless."

At the launch event, Luke, a client of St Mungo’s Broadway, read a short piece that he was able to complete only thanks to the help that the Recovery College had provided him in improving his literacy skills.

In a blog he had written a few months earlier, the Recovery College client explained just how helpful the college had been in improving his literacy skills since a St Mongo’s Broadway key worker started helping him just over six years ago:

He wrote: “I started to meet up with the tutor every Tuesday morning and doing basic literacy exercises. My handwriting started to improve and my grammar along with it – my confidence got a massive boost as well. And then the tutor suggested that I write for Homeless Diamonds, an arts magazine produced by St Mungo’s Broadway clients.

“So I agreed to write for it.

“My enjoyment of going to literacy classes has grown and grown.

“I like helping others when they are stuck on a word, I also like the reading group because even though I can read, I think my reading still needs to improve. Also, if I need to fill out important forms, then continuing to go to the literacy and reading classes will benefit me and my confidence.”


Tracy’s story

Tracy has experienced homelessness on and off for 13 years. She was fostered as a child and always felt like she was falling behind in school. “I was told I was stupid and chaotic, which I then believed. I didn’t spend much time in school, so didn’t improve my literacy. I had no self-esteem or confidence and am only starting to build on this now.”

Poor literacy led to Tracy losing her home in the 1990s because she failed to fill in her Housing Benefit form: “I didn’t know what it was so I put it in a drawer. I didn’t know whether there was support or where to find support to help me.”

Things started to improve for Tracy when she moved into a St Mungo’s Broadway project and decided to volunteer with ‘Outside In’, a group set up to harness the voice, skills, talents and strengths of the people living in St Mungo’s Broadway hostels to help improve service delivery.

Tracy also attended the London Recovery College, where she has completed courses including self-esteem, IT and assertiveness. She also helped run a knitting class.

“This has improved my confidence and self-esteem, and I am now improving my literacy,” she explained. “I can now complete forms and my hope for the future is to help people in the care sector.”


Literacy: the facts

St Mungo’s Broadway assessed 139 people and held 30 in-depth interviews with clients.

They found that:

• One in two lack the basic English skills needed for everyday life
• Fifty-five per cent were found to lack basic maths skills
• Many had a poor experience of school, often connected to unstable or traumatic childhoods
• Clients who lack basic English and maths skills make less progress in addressing physical and mental health issues
• A 2013 survey of 1,595 St Mungo's clients found that only six per cent were in paid work
• Poor English and maths skills partly explain this extremely low rate of employment
• Mainstream further education courses also generally have rigid attendance requirements, are delivered at a set pace and have relatively large class sizes. This makes it harder for people with literacy issues to complete them.