Behind the scenes – ESOL volunteer Sarah and how to teach during lockdown

Smiling cyclist

Our clients are at diverse stages on the journey to lay new foundations for themselves and their families here in the United Kingdom; seeking safety and build independent lives for themselves. The people we work with come from all over the world and the one thing that they all require to begin to grow a new life in England, is a workable command of the English language.

Language barriers arise so frequently, that Volunteers with Sarah’s skill set are key to helping our clients get to a stage where they can confidently go about their lives, making informed and independent decisions and without worry of misunderstanding.

Sarah comes from a background rooted in Education. She taught English for a living and is now a retired Assistant Headteacher who has been volunteering since October 2019 as an ESOL teacher. Her father, being an immigrant, is one of the cornerstones of her drive to help as many people who come to us as she can.

Teaching English as a second language isn’t the simplest task even for the most seasoned educator; Sarah tells me that “Lots of people at lots of levels speaking lots of different languages at one time” certainly poses a challenge or two, however she remembers with a wide smile, “making the connections with people and seeing them look upon you as a friend” is the part of her position here than brings her the most joy.

Before the government lockdown Sarah had just started an advanced class. However now during these times where we have to keep uncomfortably distanced from one another, Sarah has shifted her classes online to help keep people engaged and interactive, whilst being one of our ‘phone buddies’ and adding to her workload with donation deliveries.

She’s part of the list of volunteers on call to run care packages of food, toiletries and kids crafts. With her bicycle fully loaded up and GPS at the ready, Sarah zips off to reach those members of our wide community that are stuck at home with little to eat or entertain their children with. With her position here at the SLRA being one so close to her heart; Sarah is a team member who is able to contribute to the vast improvements we make to our clients quality of life on a truly connected, personal level.


One of the special things about the SLRA ESOL classes is that they have always functioned on a drop-in basis, welcoming everyone when and how it suited them. This is especially important for those who for diverse reasons cannot access ESOL classes with a more formal registration and waiting process.

We are in the process of setting up a similarly open and easily accessible ESOL support programme for our learners online – trying to be as inclusive as possible in finding ways to reach everyone who wants to learn. Sarah with her ESOL volunteer colleagues is now running two weekly ZOOM group sessions as well as individual tutoring over the phone or Whatsapp for clients who cannot access ZOOM. Lacking access to wifi and laptops is still the biggest hurdle our students face when it comes to accessing education during lockdown. Please consider sharing our call for donations of laptops, tablets, smartphone – or you can donate money on our just giving page and write in the comments that should go directly into a laptop or wifi for a client. Any questions – please get in touch: Thank you for your solidarity!

This text is part of a new series of regular updates and stories we want to share about the amazing people behind our work at SLRA. Thanks to Radhika for text and photographs. We’re looking forward to sharing more stories soon.