Elaine, a revered Jesus Centre volunteer, teaches one of our English for Speakers of Other Languages classes. Here she tells a heart-warming story from the Centre of help given beyond the call of duty.
The story concerns a man who had been in my ESOL class for a while who had been a physics lecturer in his home country.
When we got to the part of the lesson that day in which we practice talking about our week he told us about how he now had a menial job and that he regularly had to walk for two hours to get to work. He explained that sometimes it took three hours to get back home because he was so tired, and in fact that week after finishing a difficult ten-hour shift at 10pm he didn’t get home until 1am because his legs were so tired.
I put out a request for help to my friends on Facebook and within an hour I’d been offered a bike for him. With team work from other volunteers we got the bike to him that weekend.
This is the final part of our series on the range of English speaking and writing classes and groups that meet regularly at the Jesus Centre.
See part one of the English teaching series for an overview of the need and vision behind all these skills and support groups.
It all started during the Kosovo war.
At the gates of her children’s school Jenny met a couple of Albanian mothers, refugees from the Kosovan conflict. Despite their language difficulties they became friends and they were soon visiting each other regularly. This led Jenny to start Talk English at the Jesus Centre based on the friendship she’d built and inspired by the way she’d been able to help her two Albanian friends to gain confidence in speaking English.
As Jenny explains; the group meets with four trained volunteer tutors, each with a table to sit around and a topic to discuss each week. The group particularly focuses on speaking but also offers help with reading and writing. There’s a colourful mixture of nationalities, ages and genders and the group is more relaxed than our more formal ESOL class as there are no exams to sit- it’s based on friendship. Talk English caters for people making the very first steps to learning English.
As with all other groups the most enjoyable aspect for volunteers is in seeing people change and grow in confidence. Several students have gone on to pass a citizenship exam, some have been able to secure jobs with their improved English, some have gone on to volunteer at the Centre and a few have found faith and been baptised.
As well as their weekly conversations the group occasionally goes on outings to libraries and museums, has practiced both cooking together and ordering food and drinks from the Circle Café and has enjoyed talks from guests such as a local doctor.
- Mondays 10:30 – 12
- One-to-one sessions also available on request
- Twenty members chat in four smaller groups each headed by a volunteer
If you know anyone who’d benefit from this service please call the Jesus Centre on 0845 166 8202 or ask at the infodesk.
This is part three of a series of posts on the range of English speaking and writing classes and groups that meet regularly at the Jesus Centre.
For this post I spoke to Judith Hunt who runs a weekly group known as Bible Study With English. This interview explores how the group benefits non-Christians and investigates it’s complimentary niche in the Jesus Centre’s range of English teaching classes.
NJCB: Hi, thanks for your time. Where did the idea for the Bible Study with English group come from?
JH: Seeing how high demand was for our ESOL classes inspired me to start a group for Christians to learn English with us, and I actually had the idea for a few years before finally deciding to make it happen. Having a former teacher on the team helped us know how to start a constructive group.
NJCB: If I was visiting Bible Study With English for the first time, describe to me what I’d find.
JH: A friendly little community. We’re a small, informal friendship group who enjoy meeting together in the Jesus Centre to learn and help one another.
NJCB: Isn’t it just for Christians? Do non-Christians really get on with using the bible as a study tool?
JH: Originally we thought it would just be for Christians, but we’ve been surprised by how many non-Christians appreciate learning English through reading the bible and are keen to participate and interested in discussing what we read while learning.
NJCB: What do you enjoy most about the group, what’s been most fulfilling?
JH: The group is a relaxed, open and informal forum. As we teach and learn members are free to discuss spiritual stuff without any worries about putting each other off by being pushy!
NJCB: Can you give us any examples of ways in which the group has helped people, things they can now do in everyday life through being part of the group?
JH: Quite a few people in our group also attend ESOL too, so we’re part of the bigger picture of teaching English. However, because of our small size and flexible format we can work at a pace suitable for people who aren’t able to keep up with the formal ESOL course. As well as members of the group gaining confidence in their English language one of the ways I’ve seen the group work is by supporting one another through prayer- whether that’s for housing, transport, personal struggles or a job. In fact, members of the group often ask for prayer even if they’re not ‘formally’ Christian themselves. One Chinese couple went back to China inspired by the group and keen to bring what they’d seen among us back to Churches in China.
An evening for non-english speakers who want to improve their English and find friendship in an informal setting, whilst studying the bible.
The group of eight meets every Wednesday evening from 7:30pm – 9:00pm, led by Judith & team.
Open to (and popular with) non-Christians.
This is part two of a series of posts on the range of English speaking and writing classes and groups that meet regularly at the Jesus Centre.
English for Speakers of Other Languages is a fifteen week course for those whose first language is not English.
It all started with occasional one-to-one sessions in our small Jesus Centre Pilot Project and has since ballooned to the over-subscribed classes we hold now. This has been largely down to the word-of-mouth recommendations of our students to others in their communities and friendship groups, who are often from similar ethnic backgrounds to themselves.
The Jesus Centre’s ESOL teaching follows a formal routine allowing us to provide fully accredited City & Guilds exams to all students. There are roughly 30 – 50 people that attend our ESOL classes each year with over 250 people estimated to have been through the course since it first started. In the last four years we put 25 students through City & Guilds exams with all but one passing all the units.
Our biggest problem now is how to meet capacity.
It’s amazing to think of the mobility afforded when people start to pick up confidence in speaking the national language. It all helps finding a job, asking questions, shopping, and getting help from agencies. Several students have been very grateful for receiving citizenships, made possible by their grasp of English. Last year an outside tutor who helped us to teach English in the past, a Hindu herself, referred one of her Hindu English students to us as she wanted to become a Christian.
The Jesus Centre has helped other Churches to set up free ESOL classes, who have then gone on to help other Churches in the same way.
Jenny Berisford, one of the ESOL tutors who runs our ‘Talk English’ class shares her experience:
I really enjoy working as a volunteer at the Jesus Centre.
Since we started the’ Talk English’ group I have met many people from other countries and made lots of friends. I’ve also learned some new skills myself. Its great to see the visitors to the group gaining confidence and learning how to speak ‘everyday’ English, such as what to say when going shopping, catching a train, ordering food in a café etc.
There’s quite a family atmosphere among the group and we sometimes cook together or share some food that’s typical of our country or culture. Visitors sometimes also receive prayer and join in weekend events.
We have a lot of fun, and there’s sometimes tears when someone tells their personal story.
ESOL classes meet twice on Thursdays:10:15 – 12:12 and 1:30 – 2:30
Fully accredited City & Guilds qualifications are available
There are two levels, with sixteen people in each group, now led by Bill, Elaine and their helpers
The ESOL course runs for up to two years with twelve week terms to reach pre- O Level grade
English Classes in their various forms have been the most popular groups we’ve ever run at the Northampton Jesus Centre. Along with our maths class they’ve been running ever since we opened our tiny pilot project in July 2002, and only beaten in longevity by the free sandwiches we hand out to homeless visitors.
This post introduces a four part series on these classes.
People who speak little or no English can find great barriers to social integration. Routine and apparently simple tasks such as visiting a doctor, buying milk, helping children with homework or talking to teachers can be a daunting prospect.
Immigrating non-English speakers tend to concentrate into homogeneous communities for the support and familiarity of their native culture. However, lack of understanding of the national language can only exacerbate alienation and harm social cohesion between communities.
A few stats:
- The 2001 National Census reports that in 13 Northamptonshire Wards between 10% – 30% of the total population belong to ethnic minorities
- Northampton has one of the highest concentrations of Polish residents in the UK outside of London (source)
The vision is simple. As the Jesus Centres Strategy Document states the first aim of the national Jesus Centres project is to “show the heart of Jesus”. This vision has led us to make the love of Jesus practical by nailing it down into specific aims, which (among others) includes the following:
To reduce the personal suffering associated with economic or social deprivation
Build capacity on a non prejudiced holistic basis to help individuals make significant progress in their lives
We understand that most immigrant communities will not be Christian in nature but the Jesus Centre’s ethos is to serve every kind of person regardless or race, faith (or lack of it), sexuality or disability. Like Jesus we’re called to the margins.
The next three posts in this series will explore where this vision has taken us, introducing the classes that have grown by word of mouth among communities and helped hundreds of people to find jobs, receive citizenships and have led some to faith in Jesus.
I’ve personally tasted a Thai meal made in thanks for the tutoring that our English tutors provide. Well worthwhile!