The award recognises inspirational teaching and training professionals who have supported learners to go on and lead successful and rewarding lives.
Sonia, 38, is a relief support worker and teaches at Swan Lodge, a Salvation Army Lifehouse in Sunderland. Her engaging and inclusive approach to teaching has empowered learners to maintain their tenancies, gain jobs and progress their learning at college and university
Swan Lodge provides accommodation and tailored support for people experiencing homelessness who often have complex needs, such as poor mental health and substance misuse issues. Sonia delivers a range of classes including maths, English, career preparation and healthy eating. She themes her lessons on topical issues and uses practical activities so that the classes have wider outcomes that benefit the learners in their day-to-day lives.
When Sonia first started working at Swan Lodge she realised that most residents couldn’t sustain a tenancy. She devised a training course, the Tenancy Achievement Award, which more than 200 residents have now completed.
Sonia encourages staff to engage in courses with the residents, which breaks down barriers and improves relationships within the centre. She also promotes learning to other providers and has worked with Lifehouses across the country, helping them to become learning centres in their own right.
Sonia said: “Tackling homelessness and its root causes happens by providing more than a bed for the night, which is why we support residents to rebuild their confidence and regain their life skills by encouraging them to take part in meaningful activities, whether that’s through studying, learning new skills or taking part in regular exercise.
“I wanted to teach to make a difference. Every day, I see residents making the choice to take a small step to transform their lives. Seeing those transformations in front of me and those past learners doing well is, ultimately, why I love my job.”
Sonia’s colleague, Craig Hilton, said, “Sonia ensures that learners receive extra support when needed and is often in the centre on her days off. She’s an inspiration to residents and staff alike.” Stephen Evans, Chief Executive at Learning and Work Institute, said: “Sonia’s award recognises her special commitment to teaching and learning and the above-and-beyond effort she makes to engage her learners and support them to progress. She has also played a crucial role in supporting other homeless centres to develop and improve the learning opportunities available for their residents.
"Festival of Learning is all about inspirational stories of people like Sonia who show that anyone can benefit from learning. Lifelong learning is vital for all of us as jobs and society change around us. We encourage everyone to give learning a try, particularly in June when hundreds of free activities can be found on our Have a Go Month calendar. Further information on learning opportunities and support with the costs of courses is available through the National Careers Service, colleges and community learning providers.”