Sonia Ritchie-Park BEM

2018 National Winner

Sonia teaches at Swan Lodge, a Salvation Army lifehouse in Sunderland. Her engaging and inclusive approach to teaching has empowered learners to maintain their tenancies, gain jobs and progress their learning at college and university.

Swan Lodge provides accommodation for homeless people with complex needs, including poor mental health and substance misuse. Sonia teaches there daily, delivering a range of classes including maths, English, career preparation and healthy eating. She themes her lessons on topical issues and uses practical activities so that the classes have wider outcomes that benefit the learners in their day to day lives.

When Sonia first started working at Swan Lodge she realised that most residents couldn’t sustain a tenancy. She devised a training course, the Tenancy Achievement Award, which over 200 residents have now completed. Sonia encourages staff to engage in courses with the residents, which breaks down barriers and improves relationships within the centre. She also promotes learning to other providers and has worked with lifehouses across the country, helping them to become learning centres in their own right.

Sonia said, “I wanted to teach to make a difference. I enjoy seeing past learners doing well and this is ultimately why I love my job.”

Sonia’s nominator, Craig Hilton, said, “Sonia ensures that learners receive extra support when needed and is often in the centre on her days off. She’s an inspiration to residents and staff alike.”