The Academy already reaping results for Luton’s homeless

English teacher Charlotte Freeman with student Salves Toscano at the new NOAH Academy
English teacher Charlotte Freeman with student Salves Toscano at the new NOAH Academy

It’s third time lucky for Mozambican Salves Toscano.

He’s come to the UK twice before trying to find work but his language skills have held him back.

Now the 48-year-old refrigeration engineer is enrolled on a combined employment and ESOL (English as a second other language) course at the newly opened NOAH Academy in High Town and he’s hoping it will be his passport to success.

The Portuguese speaker said: “It’s very important to me. I want to learn English so I can talk to anyone and understand what they’re saying.”

The Academy is the brainchild of NOAH Enterprise chief executive Jim O’Connor who sees it as a natural extension of the work the charity does with homeless people. It has opened with funding for two courses - digital learning for beginners and ESOL – and they’re already reaping results.

Head of training and employment, Warren Edwards, 51 – a former vice principal at Southwark College – joined the social enterprise last year.

He said: “I’d watched a television documentary that claimed Luton had the worst homelessness problem in the UK, second only to London. It shocked and surprised me.”

The father-of-five decided he wanted to help make a difference and contacted Jim, who just happened to need someone with Warren’s background to set up a curriculum for the proposed academy.

Warren said: “Work-based learning has always been my passion. We’re teaching employability skills, combining theoretical and practical experience.

“We’ve got an employment ‘ladder’ that starts with leisure learning – cooking, singing, art – and moves up to life skills, helping people survive by teaching them maths, English, IT, how to be a good tenant and how to manage money.

“They gain work experience at our furniture shop which in turn generates money to run more services.

“After proving themselves with us, we look for an external company to give them a job.

“It’s a virtual circle and everyone’s a winner.”

Limbury-based Warren added: “When you change someone’s life for the better, and make it more sustainable, it’s a dream. We have big plans for expansion.”
His vision is shared by volunteer English teacher Charlotte Freeman, 28, who offered her services on the ESOL course.

The former Queensbury pupil said: “It’s incredibly rewarding to see students’ confidence grow. Their drive is amazing – and their achievements are remarkable.”

The Academy was officially opened by Bedfordshire Lord Lieutenant Helen Nellis who commented: “NOAH’s dedication is extraordinary. They never give up on people.”