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  • Writer's pictureLiteracy 100

Literacy for vulnerable adults in Nottingham through cross-sector partnerships | By Julia Olisa

In March this year, I had the pleasure of visiting two important public organisations in the East Midlands: Nottingham College and Nottingham Central Library. Each has recognised that there are barriers to education associated with the complexities of homelessness. During the day we explored ways in which literacy learning opportunities could be made even more accessible.


With a yearly student enrolment number of 25,000, Nottingham College is one of the largest further and higher education institutions in the UK.  Its strong links with the local community are reflected in a commitment to inclusion and achievement for all students, regardless of background. For instance, the city hosts a large number of refugees, many of whom have been welcomed into the college. The English and Functional Skills department is now considering new approaches to attracting and retaining local people affected by homelessness.    

It is not unusual for these adults to have experienced trauma. Despite wanting and needing to improve their literacy, some have powerful apprehensions about re-engagement with learning. Educators and local homelessness organisations can allay these fears, particularly when they work in partnership. Initiatives we discussed during the day included informal meetings between potential learners and tutors on the familiar ‘home ground’ of the supporting charity, complemented by induction visits to college in the company of a key worker.

Professionals themselves would benefit from access to the expertise of colleagues across the two sectors. It would equip them to understand literacy needs on the one hand, and the complexity of homelessness on the other. Together, they would ensure that learners are well supported, from college induction to graduation.


A strong relationship between the college and Nottingham Central Library has already been forged. The library is an impressive facility, well-resourced and welcoming. In partnership with the National Literacy Trust, their activities include cheerful story-times for toddlers, creative events for older children, and ‘reading socials’ for adults. Since libraries are often ‘safe spaces’ for people with experience of homelessness, they might also be gateways from informal to formal learning. Smaller libraries around Nottingham currently work in partnership with the charity Read Easy to provide one-to-one literacy classes. We considered whether in addition, using the model promoted by The Reader organisation, ‘reading socials’ might be extended to adults with very low literacy skills and little reading experience. The chance to enjoy literature alongside college as well as library staff on these occasions would build confidence that mainstream learning opportunities might not be so daunting.


It was a privilege to witness the creative work being undertaken by Nottingham College and the Central Library to ensure that they are relevant to the needs of the broad community. We look forward to hearing about future developments to enhance inclusivity for adults with experience of homelessness, and hope that they will be of equal interest to similar services around the country.

If you have news of other colleges and libraries where good practice has been developed to open access to adults affected by homelessness, please write to us at:


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