For the last two years, Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen has run an annual project with students learning English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) from the Cardinal Hume Centre in Westminster. Below, she outlines the essence of the initiative and introduces the next chapter – an innovative writing workshop connected to Senate House Library’s Reformation exhibition.

 The Cardinal Hume Centre is an invaluable resource. This London charity, which began in 1986, provides accommodation, education and legal advice to the homeless and badly housed. Having volunteered there as an ESOL tutor for more than four years, I am fully aware of the impact that it makes on the lives of the people who access this unique provision. Many of the Centre’s students are migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and for them, English classes are a vital first step to negotiating life in London.

It has been a great joy to work on the ESOL Project, the essence of which has been to make the work of academics from the School of Advanced Study accessible to these students. It has served as a knowledge exchange activity – consistently giving as much to those teaching the classes as to those prescribed the role of ‘learners’.

The intense nature of the project has meant that the unanimous feedback from students confirm massive improvements in their spoken English, listening and comprehension skills. For the academics, who have had to face the challenge of converting their research into accessible ESOL lessons, the experience has also had a significant impact. They have found the process of making their research relatable beyond their immediate academic community incredibly valuable.

Where previous projects have focused heavily on speaking and listening skills, this year, in response to students’ feedback, we delivered a writing workshop. During a week of intensive English classes, students wrote extended pieces in response to a number of topics related to the themes of the Reformation. And rather than root the project entirely in the past, we looked at how the themes could be identified in modern-day politics and international relations. Thus we considered the idea of the Reformation as ‘Britian’s first Brexit’, writing about the topic of contemporary leadership through the controversial rule of Henry VIII and the issue of language and communication in current technology.

My partner in this project was Dr William Tantam, a postdoctoral fellow at the School’s Centre for Integrated Caribbean Research. Like me, he has previous experience in teaching English as a second or other language. Teaching on alternate days, for just under two weeks in April, we secured the participation of around 20 students across the entire workshop. Some of the most powerful pieces of writing came in response to the theme of communication.

The lesson started with a discussion on language and the printing press during the period of the Reformation. Afterwards we all wrote about the changes in communication we have witnessed and lived through. Many students reflected on the difference mobile phones and the internet have made to their lives, allowing them to maintain relationships with family members living in other countries.

For some of the students it is their third year on the project and we wanted to have a permanent record of their work. With this in mind we are working on an anthology, entitled ‘Reformation: Then and Now’, which the students will launch at Senate House Library in October. A follow-up article, with photographs of the launch and excerpts from the students’ work will appear in Talking Humanities in early October.

Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen is a research fellow at the Centre for Postcolonial Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She is particularly interested in public and community engagement, and is currently organising a conference to mark the centenary of the abolition of the system of indenture in the British Empire.

 More information