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A Magazine for Sheffield

SAVTE helps people gain skills and confidence "to live the lives they want to live"

"I was looking for friends – and now I’ve found them,” says one client about the community connections established through Sheffield Association for the Voluntary Teaching of English (SAVTE). CEO Stella Burton told us more about the charity's vital work.

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The Sheffield Association for the Voluntary Teaching of English (SAVTE) has been working in the city for nearly five decades. The charity provides English language support to help people become active citizens who are more confident in their communities. It creates spaces where people can share their learning in a collective way, whilst breaking down barriers to education.

SAVTE’s CEO Stella Burton tells me that the charity's services allow people to learn in the environment that suits them best. It doesn’t dictate how and where learning should happen, she says, because it recognises that there are a variety of lived experiences with a variety of needs.

ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) learning is offered in people’s homes, especially for those with health issues or caring responsibilities. Critically, it's also offered in a social setting, through conversation groups where people can practice their English and meet new people. There are also small family learning one-to-one sessions for parents who want to develop their English alongside their child.

English language conversation groups classes have recently been delivered for asylum seeking people currently housed in a hotel in Sheffield. As part of the collaborative SPRING project, SAVTE has used existing volunteers as well as training asylum seeking people to deliver learning to others. The fact that people are being given the knowledge and skills to be able to pass on their learning encapsulates how SAVTE's work fosters a sense of connection and self-reliance.

One of the many societal problems highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic is digital exclusion. A significant number of people still do not have proper access to devices, the internet or digital learning, and this can make it hard for them to be involved in their communities. This is an issue that is especially present in migrant and asylum seeking communities, Burton tells me, so SAVTE has developed a digital inclusion project which provides entry-level technology and digital literacy skills.

Digital inclusion

Like many voluntary sector organisations, SAVTE is facing cuts to its funding which could put its services at risk. Recent changes in adult education funding have led to a significant loss of income.

Burton argues that the organisation needs long-term support from Sheffield Council, which she says needs to "look at SAVTE with a much more holistic view."

“For so long we’ve been regarded as an adult education provider, but we are so much more. Just taking the example of the hotel, we’ve made new arrivals feel welcome, our volunteers have helped them understand how things work in the UK, and hotel residents have been given a safe space to talk about how they’re feeling.

"This is why SAVTE is unique. Through the power of committed volunteers, we can work outside the box and provide highly person-centred support which connects and builds lasting friendships.

"We’re an organisation that doesn’t just fit into one box, which causes difficulties when funding is being allocated. We also work across the city. We fill in the gaps. We support the hidden voices in the city. And I think that’s why we’re relatively unknown – because we work behind closed doors.”

Volunteers are at the heart of the SAVTE's work and it’s always looking for people to help out with the delivery of its English language services and digital inclusion project. One volunteer, Cerowyn, said, “One of the best things about SAVTE is the person-centred approach the whole charity has in its work. It treats each individual in a holistic way to give them the help that’s right for them.”

Vol fanda

The organisation has also developed a community volunteering programme which aims to help people build the skills and confidence for employment or community activities and, more importantly, facilitates local connections. Burton adds that one group in Gleadless Valley has developed from a coffee afternoon into a Conversation Cafe. "It’s bringing people together for the first time.”

Pari, an ESOL participant of the Conversation Cafe, explains how important this group is to them. “I was so lonely at home by myself all day, I cried a lot. When I came to the cafe, I was shy at first. Everyone there was English, but it made me speak. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. I was looking for friends – and now I’ve found them.”

SAVTE is also looking to bring on new trustees to its board, with a particular focus on people with skills in marketing, communications, business development, finance and HR.

“We’ve been around for nearly 50 years and we want to continue and build on our work in supporting communities to gain the skills and confidence to live the lives they want to live in our society”.

If you’re interested in volunteering, becoming a trustee, or making a donation to SAVTE, visit their website for all their contact details.

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