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Mum's the word for St Mary Cray charity with a mission

PUBLISHED: 09:39 04 January 2013

Turnaround lessons
l to r Natasha Manser 8,sisters Jessie 8 and Annie Uting

Turnaround lessons l to r Natasha Manser 8,sisters Jessie 8 and Annie Uting

Archant

It's something most of us take for granted, the ability to read and write. You and countless others are doing it right now.

Aiste Mickeviciute with Michelle Paul, a trustee of TurnaroundAiste Mickeviciute with Michelle Paul, a trustee of Turnaround

But imagine not being able to read something as routine as a restaurant menu or a bedtime story.

Many people find themselves frustrated and devoid of confidence in adult life after falling behind at school, a problem that St Mary Cray charity Turn Around is looking to prevent.

Based at The Exchange in High Street, the centre offers free, one-to-one tutoring for all ages in maths and English.

Volunteers such as Lynn Bird, 44, of Sydenham, give up their time to help people who she says have quite often been wrongly diagnosed as dyslexic.

Turnaround lessons Lynn Bird with l to r Natasha Manser and sisters Jessie and Annie UtingTurnaround lessons Lynn Bird with l to r Natasha Manser and sisters Jessie and Annie Uting

“It’s not a grey area,” she says. “Dyslexia isn’t just not recognising words, that’s just not being taught to read properly.

“What we do is go back to the beginning and help people learn phonetically. Once they can put a sound to a letter it’s a pretty quick process because a lot of adults already know the words.”

Offering basic reading and writing lessons, as well as basic maths and English language support, the centre is open to all ages three days a week.

Many children visit the centre after school to catch up after prolonged absences from the classroom, or simply because they’re having a tough time understanding subjects.

Most of the volunteers are mothers, says Lynn, who volunteered after running art and nature workshops in schools, as well as helping her own children with homework.

She says the most crucial time for children’s learning is in the first seven years after which time they can be left behind if their education drops off.

She said: “We are trying to catch the kids before they end up coming here as adults. If they haven’t covered the basics by Key Stage One, they won’t progress.

“Schools have a box-ticking culture where they have to cover certain topics by a certain week, which leaves kids behind.

“For some kids it’s all over by 11, that’s the sad thing.”

Christine James, 65, has taken two of her grandchildren to Turn Around having popped in one day to buy books for herself.

She said: “My granddaughter Bonnie was in and out of Great Ormond Street Hospital for about five years suffering with scoliosis of the spine.”

She says Bonnie’s brother Andrew also goes there now because he struggled with English but “having been going for a month he has already caught up to where he should be”.

Christine adds: “School teachers are great but they have too many kids to give everyone attention. At Turn Around they get their own time where everything is explained properly without talking down to them.”

Founder Michelle Paul, 61, of Bromley, started the centre after both of her children were not taught to read properly at school.

Along with her husband, the pair registered Turn Around as a charity and opened at The Exchange in 2006.

She said: “I kept coming across children and adults who couldn’t read and write, so I would show them how.

“We currently have about 15 volunteers, but we’re hoping with more we can open five days a week.”

Turn Around is open to anyone on Mondays from 3.30pm to 5pm, and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 5pm.

To find out how you can arrange tuition or volunteer alongside Lynn and Michelle, visit www.turnaroundcharity.org.uk.

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