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Staying connected, building community

I have been a Creative English Trainer at FaithAction for a year now, but it’s fair to say my job has changed quite significantly in the past month or so! Up until then, the highlights of my week usually looked something like this: on Mondays, I would provide support in a Creative English session in Redbridge; on Tuesdays, it would be a trainer team meeting; Thursdays I would run two classes in Barking, followed by one in Dagenham on Fridays. In-between that, there was lunch with colleagues, catch-ups in the kitchen, staying behind after classes to chat and build connections with learners, and plenty of tea breaks with my team!

There are so many opportunities for connection in my role. Reflecting on this, it is not surprising that I would happily trade in the ease and comfort of working from home for my hour-long, rush hour commute to the office. I love being around people which, considering my role at Creative English, is a very important thing!

Within Creative English sessions, connection between learners is the driving force which helps people to grow in confidence, self-esteem and language ability. In all the groups I have visited across the country, I have seen learners building friendships, empowering and supporting one another. A lack of language can cause people to feel extremely isolated and marginalised. The confidence and friendship that Creative English provides for people means that they are not only more fluent in the English language, but are also people who feel able to make contributions to society as valued citizens. For me, this is the biggest triumph of Creative English.

Because of this, when the coronavirus outbreak struck and lockdown was initiated, I was concerned about Creative English and its learners. How could a programme built on so much personal interaction thrive when we were being told to stay at home? Well, it quickly became clear that the world was moving online! Meetings and social breaks alike with colleagues were now happening through video conferences, quick questions were being asked and answered via instant messaging, and instead of turning around to tap my colleague Anne on the shoulder, I was picking up the phone instead. The transition from in-person to online seemed rather seamless for the FaithAction team, and we wanted the same for Creative English, too!

The team wanted to get something put in place fairly quickly for our Creative English learners, to help maintain the friendships and connections fostered in our previous sessions. We created a Facebook group called Creative English Connect where learners and volunteers can do just that – connect! Each day, I post a new activity or challenge on the page, encouraging people to post their responses. The posts are easy-to-follow activities, written simply, that everyone can do at home.

Engagement picked up quickly! I believe that not seeing one another for a while spurred people to take the initiative to get involved. The group has ebbed and flowed, and I have been learning what works and what doesn’t (picture posts do well, posts where I misspell an anagram do not!). But what I have found overall is that people want to connect. Nothing has changed in that regard, simply the way we do it!

Although the way we go about things has changed, what we do hasn’t. People still want to connect with one another, and it is amazing that we can facilitate this through Creative English. Thank goodness for technology!