Research and Practice in Adult Literacy – a friendly group

Allison Churchill

Allison Churchill

I was born in south London, on the edge of Brixton in 1966. It was a wonderful multi-cultural melting pot of different faiths, ethnicity and class. I thought the whole world was like our neighbourhood, just like ‘Sesame Street’. Our flat was on the seventh floor of a tower block where our game of ‘chicken’ was to hang by our fingers on the wrong side of the balcony whilst our friends punched our fingers.

We were considered ‘posh’ by many because my mother had worked as a switchboard operator and spoke ‘properly’ and that our father actually lived with us. Unfortunately, we wished he didn’t as he was an angry and abusive man behind closed doors. My mother wouldn’t leave him because she was too frightened that my sister and I would be taken away from her. She had two nervous breakdowns. Back then, we never knew who we would come home to after school, would it be happy mummy who would play board games with us, or angry mummy chasing us with a wooden spoon or crying mummy weeping on the sofa.

Our nan (dad’s mum) lived with us in the early years, until she set fire to her bedroom the second time! Dad, mum, my sister and I slept in the other bedroom. Sometimes it was so cold we would sleep with hats and coats on in bed, drawing pictures in the ice on the inside of the windows.

When I went to secondary school I was considered ‘common’ because of where I came from. I thrived in the first year academically and was put up to the higher set the following year. But it was too hard for me and I never caught up. They advised for me to go down to the lower set again but my father refused, because I had embarrassed him. Consequently, I was put in to do eleven Ordinary Level exams (O levels) but left school with only two.

I joined a youth opportunities programme, at sixteen years old and studied office work at a secretarial college, whilst doing work experience for a couple of different companies. I drifted from office job to office job for years, moving to Poole, Dorset when I was twenty-three. I lived with my sister to keep her company because her husband was in the RAF and she was lonely bringing up her little girl.

I was working in a toy shop when I met a young man. We went on to make a home together and had two sons. Sadly, our relationship fell apart. He had a couple of affairs, was unreliable with work and money and occasionally violent. The last straw was one evening he was going out again and my little boys begged him not to go. They stood on the front door step crying and I remember thinking to myself if he turns round to wave as he walks down the road, I’ll give him another chance but he didn’t. I thought to myself, hurt me all you like but you do not hurt them. This gave me the impetus to step up to the plate.

I saw in the local children’s centre a course called ‘maths for the terrified’. I thought, yep, that is me alright. I signed up for that and for a computer class for beginners. I really enjoyed these and they gave me the confidence to try more things. I ended up doing my City and Guilds 1, 2, 3 and 4 in maths (distinction) and eventually my GCSE (a high grade B). I couldn’t believe I could do it, but I did! I carried on with computer classes, gaining in confidence and qualifications.

I took French classes for a few years (various education authorities), and I treated myself to doing lots of art classes (City and Guilds) too. I even obtained an A level in art which had always been my passion. I wanted to be a good example to my boys about studying and it seems to have worked. They both received really good GCSE results, my youngest son is doing his second year of A Levels and my eldest is in his first year at university. Proud mum! This is just one of the many things that adult learning has afforded me.

Thanks to my computer classes, I have a lovely job working at the maternity hospital on reception. I have made so many lovely friends through adult learning. I have gained in self-confidence. I even met my lovely husband on-line! We’ve been together for eleven years and married for five. He loves the fact that I am always busy and willing to try new things.

For the past two years, I have been a stalwart member of the New Bourne Community Choir (sponsored by the RCM) which brings me so much joy and lifts my spirits on the darkest of days. I am a member of the hospital craft club which is a wonderful way of learning new skills in a fun environment. I have just passed my British Sign Language stage 1 qualification, partially paid for by the RCM.

I am now on the look-out for the next challenge!! I can hardly believe how far I have come from the withdrawn, awkward and damaged child and teenager that I was. I am loving life and adult education has brought me so much of what is good in it. I recommend adult learning to everyone; it really can be life changing.


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