Award-winners say ‘learning got us through the pandemic’

published on 21 May 2021

Tutor Sonia Park-Ritchie bakes at Swan Lodge Lifehouse
Award-winning tutor Sonia Park-Ritchie

Students who stuck to their studies during the Covid-19 pandemic in spite of the challenges they faced, have scooped awards at the One Awards Celebration of Learning 2021 AGM*.

The Salvation Army’s Lifehouse in Sunderland, Swan Lodge, which provides accommodation and support for people who have been homeless and are preparing to move on, won three awards - ‘Learners Choice for Tutor’, ‘Learning Group’ and ‘Personal Progress’.

Support worker/tutor Sonia Ritchie-Park leads classes at the Lifehouse and was awarded the ‘Learners Choice for Tutor’ award.

I have gained so much confidence from the courses available and the way they are delivered... I have not only grown educationally but also as a person, allowing me to re-engage socially
student, Swan Lodge Lifehouse

One of her tutees said: “From the very start, Sonia put me at ease and I felt calm and relaxed when I am normally very anxious and panic when it comes to learning new things. Sonia explained everything to me very clearly and I could ask for help at any-time.

“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.”

The Lifehouse Tenancy Achievement Group picked up a ‘Learning Group’ award. For many of the students, they have overcome substantial personal challenges and this is the first learning experience they have completed in a number of years. For some, this was the first qualification they had ever completed.

Sonia said: “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.”

As the Lifehouse classed as a ‘bubble’ under Covid-19 restrictions, the learners chose face-to-face teaching, adapting to remote learning when necessary, which they all embraced. Covid-safe measures were in place to ensure the students kept themselves and each other safe.

Tutors Sean Robson and Sonia-Park-Ritchie bake at Swan Lodge Lifehouse
Tutors Sean Robson and Sonia Park-Ritchie take a break from baking lessons at Swan Lodge Lifehouse

Gillian, a Swan Lodge resident who found herself homeless a year ago, also landed the ‘Personal Progress’ award.

Sonia said: “Gillian was very shy and lacked confidence. To try and encourage her out of her room I asked her if she would like to come and do some cooking. This seemed to act as a switch as she began to enjoy learning so much that she signed up for any course that she could in her time at Swan Lodge.”

Gillian has now completed a career preparation unit, functional skills Maths Entry 3, skills for employment, training and personal development, and is currently awaiting results for her English Entry 3 and Maths Level 1 functional skills.

Gillian has tackled a number of personal challenges in the past year, including the death of her partner while she was on the courses. Despite this, not only did Gillian persevere, but she said the learning opportunities helped her through such a difficult period.

Sonia added: “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.”

* “Learners’, tutors’ and centres’ achievements are recognised at One Awards annual Celebration of Learning Awards. The awards recognise best practice, originality and achievement within learning, focus on learners, and the people and organisations that have enabled innovative and often life-changing learning to take place in many diverse venues throughout the region and beyond. Due to Covid-19 restrictions the event was held online.
Salvation Army officer supporting person in need

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