What we did:
Over lockdown there was real concern for our literacies learners. Many live in rural settings with limited skills to access ICT. They are distanced from the world of work and many live in isolation not linked to Covid-19. Their interaction with the literacies support can be the only human interface in their lives. This situation made more acute by lockdown forced us to look at how we can reach out and ensure some continuity of provision.
As reading is a core literacies function we decided to deliver some easy readers. The distribution was done by tutors and volunteers often door to door. The follow up activity was to call the learner to discuss the book and for a few there was some online interaction. We used this connection to survey the learners, finding out if they needed anything, chatting about how lockdown was impacting and planning for the future.
The feedback told us that mental health was impacted greatly by being indoors and no human contact. From this point we decided, as restrictions lifted to bring the learners together, socially distanced and masked, for a walking group. In all weathers they met for an hour, chatting about their books, how far they were walking (numeracy) and agreeing to write a short reflection (communications) about Covid-19 and how they were feeling.
The sharing of experience with the books as a focus has led the tutors to look developing a virtual book club. The challenges of devices and platforms are enhanced for such marginalised groups but the creativity is palpable.
Who we involved:
Literacies tutors and literacies volunteers have been working collaboratively on this. The idea of walking groups has been shared with other areas of adult learning.
The difference it made:
Measuring impact at this stage is somewhat anecdotal. The attendance for the walking groups has been consistent and the enthusiasm for the virtual book groups has been shared by both staff and learners.
It is vital to note that impact and positivity for the activity has affected both staff and learners. Volunteers have given feedback to say that being involved in the book trail, which was getting the books out to learners, then the follow up calls, messages and finally the walking groups gave them some structure. They felt engaged and needed. They have developed their IT skills looking at platforms for learning, especially in the plans for the virtual book club. This network of tutors have facilitated a formal survey of need with responses that are current and informative all embedded in a community activity.
What we will do differently in the future:
This activity has confirmed that going forward, literacies activity does not need to be based in one geographical designated centre. It has highlighted that volunteers are core to delivery but also in planning and influencing programme development. There is also a greater awareness of the vulnerable state that isolation creates for those who are already marginalised by a lack of literacy skills in our community.
Long term, we need to ensure that the mental health of our learners, staff and volunteers is central to all activity planning. We have already collated the rich data from the survey and shared the findings with partner services and education colleagues. Projects should have a learning focus but that opportunity to interact safely, to communicate and to be valued by others will be an integral part of how we deliver adult literacies in the future.