Ruth in the 1970s

Ruth in the 1970s

Mary,  Ruth Hayman Trust Chair, interviews former Chair and President, Sheila Rosenberg

Sheila, tell us about Ruth Hayman and why you set up the Trust in her name?

Ruth was truly remarkable. Her indefatigable and courageous work as an anti-apartheid lawyer in South Africa, where she worked with many eminent campaigners, led inevitably to her being banned. So in the late 1960s she came to London. She could not work as a lawyer here, so she turned her attention to the language needs of recently arrived immigrants  - mainly women. 

She retrained as a language teacher and set up Neighbourhood English, gathering both local and national support to run classes across eight north London boroughs.  She was central to the establishment of the national association of ESOL teachers, NATESLA (now NATECLA) in 1978 and became its first secretary. I worked closely with her in all this and developed the greatest respect for her energy, forensic mind and total commitment. When she died in 1981 there was unanimous agreement that NATESLA should found a charity in her honour.  The Ruth Hayman Trust was set up in 1983. 

How have things changed over the 33 years?

There have been many changes but there are also many enduring similarities. I became particularly aware of these when I was working on my history of ESOL.  Successive governments have usually accepted the importance of new settlers learning English (with increasingly rigorous requirements in the context of gaining citizenship) but have routinely underestimated the extent of the provision required and the amount of time needed for newly arrived - often traumatized - adults to acquire the language. And there has been little recognition of the unrealistic financial burden that this has often placed on learners once fees were introduced.  Currently ESOL students in England can be charged £350 a term for their classes, while adult literacy and numeracy provision is free.

The Ruth Hayman Trust has always had as a main focus supporting the fees for ESOL classes.  But very early on trustees recognised that learners needed to move from discrete language classes onto mainstream academic and vocational courses. They also saw that many applicants - particularly refugees  - were arriving with qualifications but, like Ruth, could not use them in the UK and needed to retrain or pass tests to get their qualifications accepted, so we broadened our offer to support them also.

What do you feel most proud of?

I am delighted at the survival of NATECLA and the way it has made the case to successive governments of all political persuasions for the need for provision.   And I feel proud that the Ruth Hayman Trust has been able to contribute to the debate. But  I am most proud that the Trust has been able, with  the support of many wonderful people, to help several thousand learners, whether they were recent arrivals learning basic English or highly qualified professionals who needed to validate their qualifications to work here. I like to think that Ruth herself would have been pleased and proud too.

What has been most difficult?

Making the national case for funding to support learners who speak English as another language has always been challenging. It  has often been made in an unsympathetic political and financial climate and too often in the context of racism and xenophobia. And the Trust has had to work and raise money in that context too. 
Fundraising has been a constant challenge.  Ours is not a popular cause.  So we are very grateful for the amazing support we have received from our donors and fund-raisers. 

There is also the challenge of managing the amount of work involved in responding to up to 500-600 applications a year and then handling the 150-160 awards we make, all without any paid staff and no office. This has been possible only because of the hard work of the 15 committed and able trustees, and the many supporters who give their skills and time so freely and so generously. And that commitment means that over 90% of the money we raise goes directly to help our applicants.

Sheila welcomes Sam Shepherd who raised funds for the Trust through a sponsored cycle ride to the NATECLA Conference 2013 in Sheffield.

Sheila welcomes Sam Shepherd who raised funds for the Trust through a sponsored cycle ride to the NATECLA Conference 2013 in Sheffield.

What challenges face the Trust in the future?

The challenge of raising the money is constant and will continue, especially if we are to keep up with the increase in fees.  I also think the trustees will probably have to explore ways of easing the burden of work involved. 

But  I leave the Trust in very good hands, with an excellent group of trustees under Mary Simpson’s capable leadership and with our wonderful supporters.

What are your own plans for the future?

I will absolutely remain an active supporter of the Trust myself.  Then I have a book to complete. And of course there is being a grandmother!