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The Growth Of Awareness Of Adult Illiteracy In Britain

CHAPTER 2

DEVELOPMENT OF CAMBRIDGE HOUSE LITERACY SCHEME, AND ALSO OF THE ADULT LITERACY RESOURCE AGENCY

The growing awareness of the extent of adult illiteracy in Britain was nothing new to existing schemes.  The Cambridge House Settlement in Camberwell had been working among the poor in Camberwell and Walworth since 1897 providing various 'social services for the community.  By 1965 these services included legal advice, community relations, youth clubs and various others.

In 1965, the then head of Cambridge House, Robin Guthrie, discovered that a member of the Boys’ Club was unable to write and asked a Cambridge House resident to teach him.  The first literacy teaching was most successful, and the boy brought along a friend who also wanted to learn; news of the literacy classes spread and enquiries were received from all parts of London.8

By 1967 the scheme had more then 100 pupils and had already split into a language scheme for non-English speakers, run by Mrs. Bennett, and a literacy scheme headed by Anthony Hurst.  A full-time director, Rachel Woods, was appointed in 1967, and the Inner London Education Authority was approached to supply financial help.  After studying the Cambridge House Report on the growth and development of the literacy provision, the I.L.E.A. agreed to pay the Director’s salary and make a contribution for books and materials and travelling expenses of the tutors.

At this time, much of the tuition was on a one-to-one basis, believed by many educationists to be the most effective means for combating illiteracy.  Much of the tuition was carried out in the student's home with the tutor visiting.9

However as the Cambridge House scheme grew, so it became more difficult to develop.  By 1971 the scheme had 200 students, and the same number of volunteer tutors spread over London.  Difficulties of logistics and supervision required a split between north and south of the River Thames, Beauchamp Lodge in Paddington was developed as the centre for North London, while Camberwell retained the southern base.  This was in 1974, and led to an improvement in both provision of resources and follow-up and support for both students and the volunteer tutors.10

Today the scheme has about 100 students and the same number of tutors, and operates within a 3-mile radius of Camberwell.  Both volunteers and students are gathered by referrals from many sources.  The B.B.C. programme “On The Move” and “Your Move” have stirred much interest in the three years since their inception, and both would-be students and keen volunteers are passed on to literacy groups by the B.B.C.  Public libraries, social workers, family and friends and “word of mouth” and publicity by the mass media all yield referrals.

The Cambridge House Literacy Scheme (which is now run independently of the Settlement) estimate that their students are 60% male in the age range 20 - 40 years, However, volunteers are 80% women, mainly middle-class middle-aged ladies with

8 Cambridge House Literacy Scheme leaflet, 1971 (see Appendix)

9 Ibid.

10 Conversations and interviews conducted at Cambridge House, London, S.E.5 with Mr M Hughes and other full-time workers, November 1977.

© Amity Reading Clubs and Betty Cooper 1978 to 2002 Page 8 of 51

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