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Tower Hamlets: A London borough dedicated to boosting number confidence

10 Nov 2023

By Suzie Dale, Relationship Manager and Lizzie Green, Communications Officer

Since September 2022, Tower Hamlets Council has worked in partnership with National Numeracy to support residents in East London to build their number confidence.

As part of our charity's Number Confidence Week campaign, we wanted to celebrate the innovative initiatives that have been taking place throughout the borough over the last year, and hear firsthand from those involved.

National Numeracy worked with Tower Hamlets Council to understand the needs of residents in the area. We then connected with organisations, training providers and charities across the borough who could help.

These included WorkPath who offer services to support residents in overcoming barriers, and Idea Store who provide learning opportunities to progress adult learners and support family learning.

As a result, National Numeracy has established and trained a network of 60 Numeracy Champions across the borough, with even more people registered to join them.

Each trained champion is equipped with the know-how, tools and resources to empower their own residents. So, one trained champion supports many more people in turn.

Leanne Chandler, Skills for Life Programme Manager at Tower Hamlets Council, has trained all her staff as Numeracy Champions.

Leanne Chandler said: "We wanted to get all of our team trained as Numeracy Champions because we found that if you’re not enthusiastic about numeracy, it’s difficult to then have a conversation with learners about it.

"Personally I struggled because I still have a bit of fear when it comes to maths. I didn’t have a great experience at school. But once we got involved with the Numeracy Champion training programme, we all got enthusiastic and engaged and it just kind of blew up from there!

"Now our team are having conversations with their peers about maths, and how our learners can support their children, which has been really valuable.

"I spoke to Nikki Chatha, our Assistant Programme Manager and we came up with a plan for National Numeracy Day in May.

"The idea was to get all of the staff and residents involved and get the team thinking about activities that embed numeracy skills. And it was really interesting. I don’t think we expected so many people to get engaged!

If we hadn’t gone through the Numeracy Champion training and had this ongoing relationship with National Numeracy, it wouldn’t have been the big success that it was.

"What we found from our National Numeracy Day events is we’ve got a lot of staff, like ourselves, who may not have the confidence with maths they want, or the skills they need to progress in their roles. So, we’re going to be promoting the Numeracy Champions programme on our internal channels now too.

"It’s about spreading the word, not just with our learning community but across the borough, to people who might want to get trained as Numeracy Champions.

"We are communicating that the course is a really good experience, and CPD-accredited too. Our main message is that maths is everywhere and you don’t have to be a maths teacher to support your learners or your residents with their numeracy."

People at a National Numeracy event, learning to grow their own vegetables

Nikki Chatha, Skills for Life Assistant Programme Manager, said: "The Numeracy Champion skills we're learning aren’t just for us, we can use them with our residents as well.

"We use maths on a daily basis, whether getting on a bus or train, and it’s about embedding those skills with our residents and empowering them.

"Our classes are around 70-80% women, and the majority of them are the budget holders in their houses. They don’t realise that having to decide how much to spend on food, bills, uniforms for their kids – it’s all maths.

"They don’t realise they’re using maths and the power they have with it. And that’s what the training has allowed everyone to understand more.

Gaining more confidence in maths has not only made me a better, more confident manager, but also imparted that knowledge with my team who have then disseminated it down to the learners.

"And the learners are then able to use those skills with their children. It’s fantastic when they feed back that they’ve helped their children with homework.

"We had one learner come forward who said that before he wouldn’t sit with his grandson and help with his maths homework because his grandson was using a different method. But now, after learning with us, he’s able to.

"So what we did there was not just help the grandparent with maths skills, but also help him gain a relationship with his grandchild which wasn’t there before the maths course. That is so much more than maths!

"For National Numeracy Day, we led up to the day with a series of events at different Idea Stores, engaging with staff and residents and the community. We were able to go out on different social media platforms and our own external and internal communications.

Nikki Chatha at a National Numeracy Day event

"The day itself was then a huge success, and we had so many different members of staff getting engaged in all sorts of ways – there weren’t any barriers around maths.

"If it wasn’t for National Numeracy, I don’t think we would have celebrated maths in that way. If you were there on the day you could feel the atmosphere and the passion, from not just the management team or the teachers, but the learners and residents – and no matter what, they're always at the forefront of whatever we do."

The positive results in Tower Hamlets have encouraged other organisations in the area to begin their own Numeracy Champion programmes.

National Numeracy is now working with the Limehouse Project – a charity dedicated to alleviating the difficulties and realising the aspirations of the most disadvantaged members of local communities, through a wide range of services including money management and training providers.

And at City Gateway, a charity based in East London working to help young people gain the skills needed to achieve their ambitions, team members at every level of the organisation got involved.

Mark Pike, Head of Education and Inclusion, encouraged his CEO and marketing team to complete the Becoming a Numeracy Champion training. The aim was to help build an organisational culture that talks openly about maths and promotes positive messaging for staff and learners.

Mark Pike said: "City Gateway decided to partner with National Numeracy as we recognised the benefits of discussing maths in a positive way with our learners.

"Too many have had a negative experience of maths, which can hold them back on maximising their future success. We undertook the Numeracy Champion training to challenge staff to think differently and to be able to motivate learners to engage with maths in a broader way.

"We are now embarking on our second round of Champion training to ensure all staff maintain this approach organisationally. This has grown in importance with the cost-of-living crisis, for our young people to have those skills to succeed."

National Numeracy has also worked closely with adult education charity the WEA, to train two cohorts of teaching assistants taking their Level 3 qualifications. These teaching assistants are now able to take the skills and techniques from the Numeracy Champion training, and use them to support numeracy in the classroom.

Tower Hamlets Council has thrown itself into supporting National Numeracy’s flagship campaigns, which provide a great hook and free toolkits to support their own work.

For National Numeracy Day over 300 residents attended an event, taking part in a variety of activities – from learning to grow their own window-ledge veg, to making draught excluders from recycled clothes – all while discovering and discussing the everyday maths being used.

Residents also had the opportunity to talk to Numeracy Champions and were encouraged to take the first small step on their numeracy journeys.

The event was attended by the Deputy Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Councillor Maium Talukdar, who celebrated and recognised the residents’ activities.

A tweet from the Deputy Lord Mayor with photos from National Numeracy Day of people taking part in events

Deputy Mayor Maium Talukdar said: "Tower Hamlets Council is grateful for the continued support of National Numeracy to upskill our residents and our Idea Store Learning adult learners.

"Through this rewarding partnership, we have empowered our residents to improve their numeracy skills and feel more confident using numbers in their everyday lives at home and at work.

"We’ve trained staff as Numeracy Champions to offer support and encouragement to our residents and we’ve used National Numeracy activities and resources to support our delivery of maths, financial inclusion and family learning."

Nikki Chatha added: "It was lovely that our Deputy Mayor came along and celebrated and supported the event! The residents are highly invested in their local councillors and environment, and the community and society in which they live, so to have a representative there really meant a lot to them."

For November's Number Confidence Week Tower Hamlets have continued to spread number positivity, hosting events across the borough with stalls, games and activities, to get everyone chatting about the importance of numbers.

And Numeracy Champions from across the borough join National Numeracy at the Lord Mayor's Show on Saturday 11 November, to fly the flag for our work in supporting the residents of London.

Faruk Miah MBE, Head of Idea Store Learning, said: "London Borough of Tower Hamlets Idea Store Learning is very proud of the partnership with National Numeracy to promote the importance of understanding how mathematics is used in the real world and being able to apply it to your everyday life in order to make the best possible decisions.

"Working in partnership with National Numeracy has enabled us to train staff as Numeracy Champions, building their own number confidence and empowering them to have conversations with their learners about maths.

"Building number confidence and numeracy skills supports our staff, learners and residents in their careers, their education, and their personal lives. Numeracy skills help us to think critically and solve problems. When we use numeracy skills, we are forced to break down problems into smaller step, identify patters, and look for solutions.

These skills are essential for success in all areas of life.

"The London Borough of Tower Hamlets offers its residents a wide range of numeracy courses across the borough through our Multiply programme. These courses build learners’ numeracy confidence and support them into work, to support their families and to progress on to maths qualifications where relevant."

We are delighted to see the impact of the partnership between Tower Hamlets and National Numeracy, and look forward to continuing our work together, with plans already underway for National Numeracy Day 2024.

Celebrating Number Confidence Week: National Numeracy Chief Executive Sam Sims, Lord Mayor of London Nicholas Lyons, Head of Idea Store Learning Faruk Miah MBE, National Numeracy Relationship Manager Suzie Dale, Skills for Life Programme Manager Leanne Chandler, and Skills for Life Assistant Programme Manager Nikki Chatha

Photo showing a group of people

National Numeracy, in partnership with The Lord Mayor’s Appeal, has launched an initiative called Every Londoner Counts

If you are a London borough council, charity, workplace, organisation or community in London, and want to join us in supporting thousands of Londoners with Numeracy Champions, get in touch! It is CPD-accredited and fully funded so there is no cost to you.

Get in touch Find out more