Toe by Toe in the community

Volunteer Liz Jones with her friend and client Andrea Flynn

The Toe by Toe reading manual has been written to provide a resource that will allow any literate person to teach reading skills. In addition to its use in tens of thousands of schools all round the world, Toe by Toe plays a vital role in helping struggling readers in prison and probation services in the UK, Ireland and Australia. It is also used with tremendous success in community projects where it has a huge part to play in turning lives around.

One such project is based at ‘St Peter’s Partnerships’ (now known as LEAP) a community-led organisation in Tameside in Greater Manchester. Originally set up in 1998 by a group of residents, it is a registered charity bringing people together in order to promote a range of community initiatives to help tackle the underlying long-term difficulties facing the area.

One exciting scheme in operation at the moment is the ‘Read for Life’ project.  We visited Project Co-ordinator, Angie Knowles, at her office in Ashton under Lyne recently and Angie told us how her dedicated team of volunteers is busy changing lives with TBT.

Michael Barnes and his client Ann Jones

Currently, the LEAP scheme has 16 students enrolled and a team of volunteers who are assigned 2 or 3 clients whom they see twice a week. The TBT scheme has been developed in such a way as to make it possible for several ‘tutors’ to work with one client on different days so it’s also possible for a client to have more than one mentor and thus increase the frequency of the intervention. The chances of success increase dramatically as momentum builds and the client begins to realise that – after all their struggles with literacy in the past – this is something they can really do. Confidence increases dramatically as a result. 

The TBT scheme is diagnostic in the sense that it ensures all the basics are in place before moving on to the next stage. Areas of weakness are worked on systematically and methodically so both mentor and client can clearly see progress.  It also boosts clients’ confidence as they can see for themselves just how well they are doing.  Of course, as literacy is such a precious gift, the mentors’ involvement with their clients’ learning is especially worthwhile. In effect, the benefits flow both ways…

Of course, as a charity, LEAP requires funding and, at present, this is mainly supplied by:

1. Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd set up a fund to build strong neighbourhoods, boost volunteering and empower the region’s young people

2. People’s Postcode Trust aims to fund projects that help to prevent poverty, support healthy initiatives and uphold human rights for some of society’s most vulnerable groups

Volunteers and struggling readers respond to flyers left in libraries and community centres and job centres. Sometimes they are referred to LEAP directly by job centre staff. Mentors tend to be retired people, ex-primary school teachers and, in fact, anyone who has some spare time and feels they can make a contribution. When clients finish TBT, for evaluation, they jointly prepare an ‘End of Project Report’ and clients are presented with a special certificate. This is a very proud day for all concerned. Gradually, having been marginalised in society and mired in low self-esteem for so long, clients gain the confidence to go out into the community and find a role for themselves. One student raced through TBT in 9 months and now works in a charity shop. Another student is now volunteering in a local hospital. Life becomes better in so many ways.


Stephen Miley & Joyce with cert & ‘The Tinker’s Girl’

Joyce was very nervous when she came to meet us as she had been put off by the way she was treated at one of the job centre agencies and found us to have a kinder approach.  Joyce told me she was in and out of school due to her asthma so she didn’t really have any schooling. As she said to us she went to “Denton school for backward children”.  Joyce relied on her brother to read any correspondence that came to her.  Joyce’s hope and wishes were to be able to read a “Romantic Novel” and to be able to get on in life.

Joyce came to see Stephen twice a week during her learning journey and he introduced her to Toe by Toe.  Joyce suffered a broken arm around this time and, while she was in hospital, Joyce was astonished to realise that she could now read the hospital signs. Joyce came back to us when she was fit and well and continued to learn.  Every week Joyce would take a book or a passage home and read it and she and Stephen would discuss it on the next visit. 

Eventually, Stephen felt it was the right time to introduce her to a “Romantic Novel” which she took home and read in one week – a fantastic achievement for her.  Joyce has read many “Romantic Novels” now and we are all so proud of her achievements.  Her confidence has grown so much that she is even thinking of volunteering in a charity shop which Stephen has encouraged her to do.  Joyce has been committed and hardworking and deserves her success.  Stephen has advised Joyce to get a library card which hopefully she will do. We presented Joyce with her certificate and a Catherine Cookson Book – The Tinker’s Girl. Joyce said she couldn’t have done it without us and we were very special.


Josef with Stephen at his ‘graduation’

Josef was referred to us by Tameside ACE in November 2016. Josef could read but felt that he could do better and asked if we were able to help. He wanted to be able to grasp the longer words and their meanings.  I paired Josef up in February 2017 with Stephen and they went through Toe by Toe. Stephen found that Josef could read pretty well but needed help moving onto the next stage. We presented Josef with a certificate and a book on Manchester United written by a supporter. He has been attending various courses at Tameside ACE and now has a part time job at Manchester United on one of the food outlets.

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