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UCL Public Engagement Blog



Evaluation Exchange: ESOL classes with a twist… Working with the Renewal Programme

By sejjgpi, on 14 March 2018

The Evaluation Exchange is a venture between UCL Public Engagement Unit and Aston-Mansfield, which sees groups of researchers from UCL working together with a voluntary sector organisation (VSO) in east London to solve an evaluation challenge. Read previous posts in this series.

This week we’re hearing from  Alexandra, Sarah, Lioba, and Lorna, a team of researchers from University College London (UCL), who have collaborated with the Renewal Programme over the past six months.

The UCL researcher team

The Renewal Programme offers a range of activities, from ‘keep fit’ classes to Maths and IT training, but for this specific project we focused on evaluating a non-traditional weekly ESOL (Enlgish for Speakers of Other Languages) class offered to ladies over sixty years old. This class is targeted to complete beginners and differs from other English classes as it is volunteer-led, women only, and adapted to learners’ special interests and needs.

Advertisement for the non-traditional ESOL classes at the Renewal programme

We used a mixed methods approach to answer the following question: What impact does the non-traditional Renewal Programme ESOL class for women over 60 have on the lives of its participants?

To begin with, we undertook a scoping review of four key domains, based on discussions with Renewal Programme staff and initial mapping exercises. We then developed an initial Theory of Change framework. We held a participatory workshop with most ladies attending a weekly Friday class. Following the results and feedback of this session, a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods were selected for the next phase of data collection to provide a more complete understanding. The quantitative and qualitative tools were piloted with the Renewal Programme manager and two participants. Overall, 19 participants and the manager of the Renewal Programme were interviewed in a range of single semi-structured interviews and group interviews.

One of Sarah’s focus groups at the Renewal Programme

We concluded that the classes are an essential part of the ladies’ lives, offering them not only an opportunity to practice, but also a much-needed supportive social space in which they feel comfortable. This space is essential particularly in a community such as Newham, where the particular demographics perhaps result in fewer opportunities for women to practice English, compared to those living in an area with a higher percentage of English speakers.

As the project is almost completed, we thought to share some reflections about the project as a whole, in the hope to inspire others to get involved in the very rewarding experience of working with VSOs in London and beyond.

Dr Sarah Jasim, Institute of Epidemiology & Health, UCL:

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed undertaking research for the Renewal Programme. One of the most surprising and rewarding moments for me, was when one of the participants, during an interview, recounted how prior to joining the Renewal Programme – she was restricted to only being able to select GP slots with Bengali doctors. Since participating in the Renewal Programme, this participant has experienced improved ESOL skills – which have allowed her to essentially regain some control in this area of her life, and not be restricted to any particular GP any more. I’ve really enjoyed gaining insight into a VSO such as the Renewal Programme, as well as integrating research practices and ideas from others on our UCL research team, who are from different disciplines.”

Lioba Hirsch, Department of Geography, UCL:

“Working on our evaluation project with the Renewal Programme has been inspiring and insightful. On days when I felt overwhelmed with work, talking to the women at the Renewal Programme proved invigorating and fun. I have learnt how to deliver a piece of commissioned research for a VSO, a skill that I did not previously have. It also allowed me to rekindle my knowledge and practice of implementing and monitoring change projects and working to develop a theory of change. Louise was brilliant to work with, as were Alexandra, Lorna and Sarah and I have learnt so much from each of them. I also really enjoyed working in an environment where we worked with women exclusively. It was fun and refreshing and something I will remember fondly.”

Alexandra Bulat, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, UCL:

“As a migration researcher, I am familiar with the theories of integration in the UK and, no matter how you look at it, being able to communicate in English is key to creating a cohesive community, but also to improving individuals’ own lives. As a migrant myself, I still remember very well my first weeks in the UK when I could not understand what my flat mates were speaking about in the kitchen. If one does not have daily opportunities to practice, one can start feeling isolated and marginalised. We all need a bit of help sometimes – and this is exactly what the Renewal Programme has been offering to these ladies we worked with, providing them with English skills but also a social, friendly space in which they feel comfortable to learn and practice. Working on this project with a wonderful team has been extremely rewarding both from a personal and a researcher perspective. I genuinely hope that we will see initiatives like the Renewal Programme in all UK areas that need them.”

Dr Lorna Benton, UCL GOS Institute of Child Health, UCL:

“My experience of working with the Renewal Programme has been very inspiring and fulfilling. Professionally, it has been a treat to apply some of my training to a local and important evaluation need. With a background of working on a range of Global Health projects in low income settings, it has been particularly eye-opening to learn about the shared need for effective and appropriate evaluation amongst many VSOs across East London and difficulties of reflecting true social impact. Personally, I have been inspired by the courage and humour of the women aged 60years plus, attending ESOL classes for the first time. Their stories are so important to elucidate why programmes like the Renewal Programme not only deliver education but provide a kind of physical sanctuary for mental health support and socialising. It has been a delight to work with the wonderful volunteers, teachers and Louise, all striving for the improvement and integration or their pupils with ferocity and compassion in equal measure. Finally, I have loved every minute of working with my wonderful and super-efficient researcher team; completely different yet complementary, I have learned such different ways of working that I will continue to use, thanks to you. It’s been a blast.”

We are very much looking forward to the Evaluation Exchange celebration event on the 22nd of March, where we will present more detail on our evaluation findings, as well as a video that includes voices from the Renewal Programme staff and learners.

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