A hostel manager’s story
Lessons have been running in this hostel for roughly three years. All projects should have this kind of service. The market is definitely there. In this hostel, almost half the residents are either having lessons or want to. That’s really big. It’s amazing.
I wanted us to have this service because some of our clients have English as a second language and they struggle to express themselves. This affects confidence and they miss out on opportunities.
Some residents struggle to express their needs, for medical or personal issues or maybe at the Job Centre. They don’t have the language to express how they feel and they get frustrated. When they are asked questions, particularly with GPs, they will just say ‘yes’ for things that they don’t agree with or did not understand. Services don’t realise that this person is saying ‘yes’ because they’re scared of authority, and they don’t know how to express themselves. They surrender because they don’t have other options. If they had the vocabulary to express what they feel, what they have, what they cannot do, the results will be different. With having lessons residents realise ‘I can defend myself. I can express myself. I can make myself understood.’
The benefits of lessons are huge. They help residents to improve communication, boost their self-confidence and self-esteem. They enable residents to build trusting relationship with others. Most of these residents, because of the language barrier, stay in their rooms. What’s the point of coming out if you cannot interact with others? They feel alienated. They isolate themselves. That isolation increases substance misuse and impacts on mental health. English lessons enable them to express themselves. They don’t feel isolated anymore. They socialise with others.
The approach the teacher takes is important. It's the application of PIE [psychologically informed environments]. The teacher ends up becoming a bridge between the team and the residents. Residents open up in lessons because they trust the teacher. We collaborate and it improves the working relationship. The teacher will tell us sometimes the techniques she uses and using the same method in our approach then we achieved the goal that we are looking for with that person.
The lessons reduce substance misuse. They are the few hours that take away the time residents were spending in their rooms drinking or thinking negatively. Residents always make an effort to come to the lessons, even those using alcohol pretty much every day. They might come to lessons under the influence, but you can see that they have made an effort to reduce, to be able to attend, without you even asking them. They are already planning. It’s a small step but it’s a positive one. Sometimes we miss those little things that they are doing very well because our expectation is big.
We should not punish residents because they are under the influence. It’s up to the staff who know the resident and the tutor to determine if that person should not attend the lesson on that day because some of them, yes, they are under the influence, but they are still performing well. When they can go to lessons, they feel considered, they feel accepted. It makes them feel not judged, that ‘I belong’ because they know that ‘yes, the teacher knows that I drink but she never stopped me coming to lessons.’ Then other residents will see that this person has changed, and they will start joining because they see the benefits. This is the impact of the English lessons. They address other issues. It’s a different way of working.
There’s a gap in services for those residents. At college or anywhere in the wider community, under the influence they will not be accepted. I feel it’s very important that there are services like this project in supported accommodation, so these people don’t miss out.
There are challenges. It takes time and consistency is key. Without consistency it will never, ever work. What tends to happen is we get discouraged and give up early because we will try, we will promote, then no one will attend, or the person will attend today and then miss next time and the next time they will come under the influence. The reason is not that residents don’t want to do the lesson. It is that they don’t want to trust you and believe in you and then be let down. If either the tutor or the staff get discouraged, residents will see that very, very quickly and then feel ‘oh, they are not interested…leave me alone.’
When there’s consistency, residents see that on that particular day the tutor is there at the same time. When they eventually show up, the tutor does not tell them off or talk about their alcohol, the tutor is just happy to see them. Eventually it works. It’s all about relationships and consistency. You really have to believe in them and believe that they can do it.
The lessons boost residents’ sense of worth. They feel they are confident and even the thought that eventually they will go back to work comes in. One of our residents who is having lessons even said that there are jobs that he would never have thought of that he will eventually apply for. He realises there are things that he can do.
It’s very difficult to find lessons in the wider community that are accessible to our residents because most of our clients don’t like group activities. They prefer 1-1. They need to get to a certain stage first, before they can go to lessons in the community. The whole point of doing this is that in the long-term residents will be able to do that. I have clear evidence it is possible. We had one resident who started lessons here. He started going to one group outside the hostel, then another. Incredible. In the long term, if we were working with the clients for 4-5 years, I’m pretty sure that every single person who is doing lessons here will be doing them in the community. Sometimes residents look at us to see if we believe in them. It’s like ‘Do you trust me? Do you think I can do it?’ When we say, ‘you can do it!’, they just fly. It’s amazing! We love the transformation, to see where the person was before and how slowly they are blossoming.