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Winners Galore as Learners Use Studying to Survive the Pandemic



The 2021 iteration of the annual One Awards Celebration of Learning, which recognises best practice, originality, and achievement in the learning sphere, bestowed three awards on Swan Lodge, The Salvation Army’s Lifehouse in Sunderland. 

Support worker/tutor Sonia Ritchie-Park won the Learners’ Choice for Tutor award. The Lifehouse Tenancy Achievement Group won a Learning Group award. Gillian, who was homeless before she found herself at the Lifehouse, won the award for Personal Progress.

Ready, steady, go!

Swan Lodge provides accommodation and much-needed support to people who have experienced homelessness. It offers a wide range of classes and courses for residents, enabling them to gain sufficient life and employment skills to leave the Lifehouse and make it on their own.

One of the most critical elements that contributes to the students’ and Lifehouse’s success is the quality of the tutors. Tutors like Sonia Ritchie-Park who has the uncanny ability to put students at their ease, regardless of previous leaning experiences. She’s also gifted with patience and has a clear teaching style that makes it easy for students to understand the material. Of course, she is always available should any of her students need additional help or support.

One of the learners in Sonia’s classes said, “I have gained so much confidence from the courses available and the way they are delivered. Sonia creates a very safe environment to learn and is extremely encouraging and supportive. I have not only grown educationally but also as a person allowing me to re-engage socially. I cannot thank and praise her enough.”

Sonia also has glowing praise for her students, saying, “The quality of work they produced was fantastic and it was a joy to teach them. To be honest, in some ways they have helped me get through the last few months with their laughter and dedication.

“This group has not only worked throughout the pandemic, but they have wholeheartedly put their heart and soul in to completing their qualifications.”

Group effort

Swan Lodge’s Lifehouse Tenancy Achievement Group won a Learning Group award through the personal and educational support provided. Not only is this important for people who have had more than their fair share of personal challenges, but also for people who have experienced educational challenges. Many people who come through the Lifehouse’s doors haven’t completed formal education, so completing the courses on offer and securing a qualification is a big personal achievement. 

Someone who can be very proud of her achievements is Gillian, who won the Personal Progress award. Gillian was very shy, with virtually no self-confidence when she arrived at the Lifehouse. She preferred to be alone in her room than to interact with the others living there. 

Sonia coaxed her out of her room – and out of her personal bubble – by inviting her to do some cooking. That simple first step brought Gillian right out of her shell and she has now completed and passed many of Swan Lodge’s courses, including a career preparation unit, functional skills Maths Entry 3, and skills for employment, training and personal development.

She’s still waiting for the results for English Entry 3 and Maths Level 1 functional skills.

Instead of allowing her personal challenges to hobble her, she used her studies to help her overcome the challenges, including the death of her partner. 

Commenting on Gillian’s success, Sonia said, “Gillian’s confidence has grown and now it would be out of place if she was in her room on her own. She has not just been a pleasure to teach but it has been an honour to watch her grow academically and as a person. She really deserves recognition of how far she has come and her dedication to learning.”

COVID compliant: Swan Lodge was categorised as a ‘bubble’, so students were able to choose face-to-face classes under the Covid-19 restrictions. Remote learning was used when necessary. All covid-19 safety precautions were taken.