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The Growth Of Awareness Of Adult Illiteracy In Britain


I too am a volunteer with the Rathbone Reading Clubs, and only Irene Probert-Lewis has been a volunteer for a longer period than myself.  I was “hi-jacked” into it in or about July 1974.  At that time I was employed by the London Borough of Lambeth Social Services where Steve Portlock was a trainee Social Worker.  He invited me to visit his club at the Minet, where he was a tutor.  I protested (as do almost all invited volunteers) that I had no teaching experience or ability.  I received the same answer as do all protesters - indeed I use it myself, if you can read and write, you can teach someone else to do the same.  However, I was assured that all I was doing was visiting.  As I had met both Gladys Zonena and Philip Glascoe on social occasions in the past, I went along.

I was introduced by Steve to a young West Indian lad who was told to “look after me”.  His idea was to sit down beside me and put his book between us and start reading.  Instinctively, I corrected his mistakes and tried to explain why they were wrong.  By the end of the evening, I was a volunteer!  When Jeffreys Road Library opened in April 1977 with Steve Portlock as tutor, I transferred there because it is nearer my home.  Since then I have been working with a young lad who is of average “intelligence” but a slow learner.  Gradually, he has made some progress and he now has a girl-friend who helps and encourages him also.

There is tremendous satisfaction in attaining even a very small success with a student and the overall friendly sociable feeling of the clubs is of great value.  One learns the technicalities, language experience, flash cards, and to use and make other materials.  The support received by the supervising tutor and other members of the Management Committee and group is always available and very reassuring.

When the Management Committee was constituted I was invited to join, although I am not a supervising tutor, and by this, my own circle of friends has enlarged and been enriched.

The feeling of warmth and friendship the clubs nourish makes all the members - supervisors, volunteers and students alike feel as if they belong to one large family.  Only recently we had a wedding in the family when Mrs Zonena and Mr Glascoe decided to make their Rathbone partnership permanent; their wedding party was a “Who’s Who” of Rathbone and the literacy scene in London,

It may be that this essay on the Rathbone Reading Clubs sounds like a partying group of hedonist who occasionally do some literacy teaching.  In fact, although literacy is the central focal point of our work, and the clubs are successful with students other organisations will not accept, the function of teaching E.S.N. and mentally handicapped young people how to behave acceptably in groups of a wide circle of different types of people is just as important and valuable.  It is as important for his development for a man who is considered handicapped to learn how to buy a girl a drink, and make social chit-chat with her without embarrassment, or for a girl of similar classification

© Amity Reading Clubs and Betty Cooper 1978 to 2002 Page 40 of 51

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