Speaking the same language and building more inclusive communities

It’s been nine months since the Talking Together adventure started in London. After being a great success in Birmingham for 18 months, in March we started a pilot programme across 10 London boroughs.

Throughout these months I have had the pleasure to work with amazing colleagues and volunteers and inspiring and exceptional learners. In London, Talking Together recruited and trained 42 volunteers to hold basic and informal English language classes to long term UK residents with very little or no English.  35 classes later, an amazing 302 learners have completed the course.   

Talking Together has been all about a holistic approach to sustainable development - a ‘win win’ for everyone involved.   For our volunteers, their time has been used doing something really meaningful, and that has further developed their skillsets and employability. Our delivery partners have been able to offer an extra service to their users, as well as gaining some additional funding at a time when the charity sector is being stretched beyond its means. And our learners can now communicate and have basic conversations in English. Most importantly, they now have the confidence to speak.

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Being a national volunteering charity our focus is on creating great, meaningful and sustainable volunteering opportunities. Talking Together has been just that.  Ten of our volunteers have continued volunteering with the organisation they were matched with, delivering English classes the way we trained them. Four are pursuing careers in teaching after being inspired by the programme; one has already completed his CELTA qualifications.

Two inspiring young women - both victims of domestic violence - have gained confidence and experience to enter the job market. We haven't pictured them here to protect their privacy but one said: “I will never forget about you, especially after giving me the opportunity to gain my confidence again after nine years of domestic violence. Only you and the three days of training woke me up from my nightmare and made me see life in a positive way and look forward.  You gave me opportunity to start from scratch, built a career and feel worth in this life.”

Every class has been different; we have worked with 23 diverse organisations who support refugees, get people into employment, support victims of domestic violence or link schools and mothers. The learners are from many different backgrounds, but what is common for all is that they want to be a part of British society and they want to be able to communicate.

Talking Together has been all about creating more inclusive communities. About overcoming boundaries and providing support to volunteers, organisations and learners. Some of our learners have been in this country for many years, but had no friends outside of their immediate family.  One told me that she had made her first friend since moving to this country on our course.

Talking together is about improving people’s English, but a truly great side effect of the programme is its social impact. How it helps people out of isolation, be it volunteers or beneficiaries, and how it builds friendships and understanding of different cultures. The project empowers our learners, beneficiaries, partner organisations and local communities as a whole. We all have something to learn from each other, speaking the same language and building more inclusive communities.

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I’m so proud to have been one of two project co-ordinators on Talking Together London, and that the project as a whole (including London and the Midlands) has reached 2,011 learners via nearly 200 volunteers.  Thanks to everyone involved making this a truly great project!