I have been involved in literacy and community education work in the UK for more than 35 years as a tutor, lecturer, publisher and consultant. I founded Handprint, a community education project based in Handsworth, Birmingham, and I also worked for many years as a lecturer at City College, Birmingham. These web pages document my involvement with literacy work, from 1975 up to my Black Firsts Blog which I started in 2011. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Beverley with some of the children in the new music room of the John Hoyland Wing at Anchovy School. Behind her (L to R) Mr Homer Davis, the Mayor of Montego Bay; Mr Gerald Lawrence, Principal; and the Hon Derrick Kellier, MP
It was really inspiring to go to the opening of the new John Hoyland Wing at Anchovy Primary School on February 23, 2017. Beverley Heath Hoyland was there to officially open the two new classrooms which she has funded through a £56,000 grant from the John Hoyland Trust.
Beverley, who now lives in the UK, was born in Jamaica and attended this school when she was a little girl. She was married to the famous painter John Hoyland and explained how her husband, who sadly passed in 2011, fell in love with Jamaica and regarded it as a second home.
At the opening, she said: “John loved going to the tropics and waking up to the wonderful light. He called it ‘visual poetry’. He loved watching the hummingbirds and the butterflies whizzing around, the lizards pretending to be dead. He loved it all. And it fed through into his work.”
She added: “John loved Jamaica, its colours and people, and so it feels right to be giving something back to the place. The buildings were badly needed because the school was bursting at the seams.”
The John Hoyland Wing
The classrooms will also function as emergency shelters in times of need and have been built to ensure they withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.
Derek and I met Beverley last year at the opening of the Raphael Albert Miss Black and Beautiful exhibition at the Autograph Gallery in Shoreditch. She is a former beauty queen and Albert, who organized many beauty pageants in London, had photographed her in the 1980s. Derek, who was working with Autograph at the time, helped contact her and several other former beauty queens who were invited to an end-of-exhibition party.
That was when I found out about her wonderful project at Anchovy and as we planned to be in Jamaica at the time of the handover, Beverley invited us to attend. It was such a wonderful gesture and a brilliant example to others.
The opening was attended by Mr Homer Davis, the Mayor of Montego Bay; The Hon Derrick Kellier, Member of Parliament; and Dr. Michelle Pinnock, Director, Ministry of Education Region IV.
I was able to make contact with Dr Michelle Pinnock, Ministry of Education Director for the region, who made an inspiring speech praising Beverley for her vision and generosity. We discussed my work in bringing books to school and she promised to help with some of the paperwork next time.
St James Day Care and Learning Centre
This photo is of children and teachers at the St James Day Care and Learning Centre in Mount James, St Andrews, where I made a delivery of books which I wrote about in a previous blog. We weren’t able to take photographs then, as we arrived at the school late in the day when the children had gone home. So we decided to leave the photographs until our next visit.
It was great to go back and see the books being used by the children and being displayed around the classrooms. We met two teachers, Ms. Monica Lewis and Ms Myrna Fairclough, together with Ms Inez Ball the school’s cook. Teachers told us how grateful they were for the books and how they have helped, particularly in subjects such as Maths, Reading, and transport where teaching these subjects were greatly improved with our gift to the school. A big thank you to all those who took the time and trouble to collect books and bring them to my house in Birmingham.
Delivering the books to Nannyville Basic School with (at the back) Ivan Coore and George O’Connor who helped with transport and (on the right) Nicole Sterling, Principal at the school
I’ve recently delivered another 600 books to three schools and a youth project in Jamaica. They are: Nannyville Basic School and the Nannyville Youth Uprising Club, both in Kingston; and The St James Day Care & Learning Centre and New Garden Primary and Infant School, both in Mount James, St Andrew.
The books included basic readers, children’s storybooks, general information and reference books including dictionaries, black history books, poetry and fiction. There were also a number of big illustrated board-backed books for the younger children who are just starting to read.
Derek and I picked up the books from Kingston Wharves, helped by our friends Ivan Coore and George O’Connor who provided transport and helped us to deliver the books to the schools.
First, we made a delivery of 200 books to Nannyville Basic School in Kingston. Nannyville is a deprived community in east Kingston, and although the school is spacious and well-built, it is chronically short of resources. As the boxes of books were opened groups of excited children rushed to come and examine them, as did the parents and teachers, as you can see in the pictures.
The school Principal Mrs Nicole Sterling thanked us, and said: “This is such a very precious gift which you have brought for us. Our school needs the resource.” Ivan Coore also received books for the Nannyville Youth Uprising Club, situated opposite the school, where he helps run activities and training courses for teenagers from the area.
Then, from the heat and dust of Kingston, we drove far up into the Blue Mountains to the Mount James School. Both the Mount James and New Garden schools are set in the most beautiful and lush countryside, with the majestic Blue Mountain peaks ranged against the skyline. By this time, in the late afternoon, the schools were closed for the day, but Mrs. Violet Nelson – known to everyone as Miss Pansy – the Vice Chairperson of the St James Day Care & Learning Centre was there to receive the books on behalf of both schools. Miss Pansy was the lady I mentioned in an earlier blog, whom I met last year when I was in Mt James when she told me of the great need for books in this deprived rural area. She was extremely delighted, and she said: “We are so happy that you have come with this wonderful gift for us. The teachers and children thank you so much, and please thank everyone who donated, on our behalf.” She couldn’t stop smiling, as you can see from the photo.
The smile says it all: Miss Pansy (Mrs Violet Nelson), vice chairman of St James Day Care & Learning Centre, Mt James, St Andrew
That’s the good news: now for the not-so-good news. I feel bound to mention the four days of stress and frustration I endured at the Jamaica Customs in Kingston before I was able to collect the books.
For those who have never visited the Jamaica Customs in Kingston, I can tell you that it is a very alienating place. When you go to collect your goods, after first having visited the shipping company who transported the goods, where I collected the necessary documents to be handed to customs, I proceeded to Kingston Wharves. There you have to go through a maze of different departments on the compound, entering each one through security barriers designed like turnstiles at football grounds only much more intimidating. At each stage you have to produce a raft of IDs – passport, Jamaica tax registration number, and, of course, the bill of laden for your goods. These are examined in minute detail at every turnstile before – if you are lucky – an unsmiling official presses a button to let you in.
So you go first to the Manifest Department, and here you pay for the daily handling and storage of your goods since they were landed. Then you progress to the Personal Effects Department where you pay duties for any Amendments to Documents. Eventually you reach the ‘Berths’, the collection department. At each stage you have to join a queue for anything up to two hours – and all of this in suffocating heat.
I spent my first day, approximately six hours, going through these various departments, where they confirmed and stamped my documents, before I got to the collection department to pick up the books. Here I was informed that Customs needed a ‘waiver letter’ from the Ministry of Education before the books could be released duty free. Even though the boxes had been opened and it was obvious that they were books, and one official even said to me what good work I was doing and how badly schools needed these kinds of books, nothing could be done without a ‘waiver letter’ if I was to avoid import charges.
I immediately contacted the Ministry of Education and Mrs. Analia Wallace-Muir in the Office of the Permanent Secretary – who I had corresponded with prior to going to Jamaica – and she kindly advised that she would try to expedite the preparation of a ‘waiver letter’. We waited the following day for a phone call from the Ministry to collect the letter, but unfortunately the Minister was busy attending meetings on that day, so the letter was not ready for collection until the following day.
So the next day found Derek and myself driving through the early morning rush-hour traffic to the Education Ministry, where I collected the letter, which was written and signed by the Minister for Procurement. Thinking that we now had everything required to get the books, we set off for Customs. There, after going through the turnstile ritual, I was directed to see a Customs Supervisor who informed me that this ‘hand delivered letter’ was not acceptable and I could not have the books. He said Customs needed to have the letter mailed to them directly from the Ministry.
In desperation I turned again to Mrs Wallace-Muir at the Ministry of Education, who was extremely helpful and supportive. I phoned her from the office of the Customs Supervisor, told her what was happening and asked the Customs supervisor to speak to her. She confirmed that the letter was genuine and that it had been written and signed that very morning. The supervisor decided, however, that this information was not sufficient for him to authorise release of the books and he asked her to ensure that an email of the letter, which had been given to me, was sent directly to the Jamaica Customs. This process took up most of the day while I sat around waiting on the wharf. Finally, in the late afternoon, just before closing time, I was informed that as long as I paid for the additional three days storage and handling this process had entailed, the books would be released. Derek and I were so hot, tired and depressed – and besides it was far too late to deliver the books – that we decided it would be better to go back to Kingston Wharves the following morning.
This level of needless, obstructive bureaucracy is overwhelming, unnecessary and totally counter-productive. There are many well-documented cases where individuals and friends of Jamaica have experienced these difficulties getting their gifts delivered to the intended beneficiaries. Why does Jamaica, which needs all the help and goodwill it can get, make life so difficult?
However, I want to end on a positive note. My very sincere thanks to Mrs Wallace-Muir at the Education Ministry for her persistence and support, to Ivan Coore for helping with transport in Kingston, and to Beverley Johnson of JLB Shipping who again generously organised transport of the books to Jamaica.
And last, but not least, a massive thank you to the donors – Mrs Dawn Powell, who came all the way from London bringing boxes of children’s books, some brand new, and delivered them to my door; Elenor Carroll from Birmingham Libraries who continues to support this project; Corale Chapman, presenter at New Style Radio Birmingham for the many bags of books from listeners; and long-time friend Sheryl Thomas who brought her books all the way from Bath and delivered them to me.
The joy of books: a young pupil at Nannyville Basic School explores one of the books
I am pleased to say that today I shipped another 600 books to schools in Jamaica. This shipment will be going to schools in rural St. Andrews.
Last year when I was in Jamaica, I was visiting a Coffee farm in the Blue Mountains owned by Ivan Coore (who is the brother of Cat Coore, a member of the famous Third World Reggae Band) and Ivan introduced me to a lovely lady called Mrs. Violet Nelson in the Mount James District. She is the Chairperson of the local Basic School, the St James Day Care and Learning Centre. Miss Pansy (as she is known locally) showed me around her school and introduced me to the teacher (there is only one!) and children. The school is desperately in need of basic resources such as books, and she asked for my help. She also informed me of other local schools who would greatly appreciate the gift of a few books, and I promised Miss Pansy that I would do my best to help.
I would like to say a big thank you to the following people who contributed so generously to this shipment: Mrs Dawn Powell, who came all the way from London bringing boxes of children’s books, some brand new, and delivered them to my door; Elenor Carrol from Birmingham Libraries who continues to support this project and whose help is so valuable; Coral Chapman, presenter at New Style Radio Birmingham, for the many bags of books she has collected from listeners; my long time friend Sheryl Thomas who also brought her books all the way from from Bath and delivered them to me; and to Beverley Johnson of JLB Shipping who once again kindly organised transport of the books to Jamaica.
Here’s a picture of me with the boxes of books, in the driveway of my house, as they were about to be loaded on the van for shipping. I’ll be reporting from Jamaica later this summer when the books have arrived.
Six boxes of books, each holding approximately 100 books, ready for shipping to Jamaica
Principal Mrs Carole Grant with the first group of Literacy Monitors at Cacoon School
On my recent trip to Jamaica I visited Cacoon School to say ‘Hello’ and to see how the new library was developing. This was the first visit since my donation of 1,000 books in May of this year.
The library is in place. Mrs Carole Grant, the principal, showed me the room in the school where the library has been set up. It is a nice, quiet room with books displayed on shelves, and chairs and tables nicely laid out for the children. I was very impressed.
A scheme for Reading Monitors has been introduced. Teachers have selected, from each class, two or three children to act as Reading Monitors. The Monitors wear a ‘Reading Monitor’ badge on their uniform that Mrs Grant had made especially for the school. The Reading Monitors are responsible for encouraging fellow pupils to read and improve their literacy, supporting their interest in reading by taking them to the library and helping them to select appropriate books. This is a kind of peer group support, where pupils are helping other pupils, rather than just the teacher helping. The Reading Monitors are already active in the school. I thought this was a brilliant idea and the pupils seem to be quite keen on these pretty little badges.
A student shows off his Literacy Monitor badge
Children at Cacoon studying the Handprint/Jamal Arawaks of Jamaica book
I visited with Derek two days after Jamaica’s Heroes’ Day, and during the school’s Heritage Week when the focus of study was on Jamaica’s seven national heroes. The classes we visited were Grades 5 and 6 and I asked them if they had been reading any of the books from the library. Many children were quick to name the books they had read, and because it was Heritage Week they had all been reading from the history books I had donated, including Sam Sharpe, The Arawaks, and Nanny of the Maroons. The classes also read some passages from the books for us.
At the end of our visit, the class teacher suggested that one of the pupils should stand up and say a ‘thank you’ to us. The first pupil who came forward was a little shy, and too embarrassed to speak, so another pupil came forward and gave a well rounded ‘thank you’ to myself and Derek.
Donation of Sam Sharpe books to The Burchell Memorial Baptist Church, Montego Bay
In addition to visiting Cacoon, I donated 200 copies of the Handprint publication, Sam Sharpe and the Christmas Rebellion to the Burchell Memorial Baptist Church in Montego Bay.
(From left to right) Pastor Davewin Thomas, Millicent Jackson (secretary), Merrise, and Joy Virgo (assistant sec) at the Burchell Memorial Baptist Church
I went to the church during Heroes Week, on Thursday, 16 October 2014. This was a timely donation because not only is Sam Sharpe a National Hero, he is buried under the pulpit of the Burchell Memorial Baptist Church. I felt very honoured to be able to make such a donation to the church. Pastor Davewin Thomas, and staff members Mrs Millicent Jackson and Mrs Joy Virgo received the presentation for the church. The church is part of a circuit of Baptist churches in this part of Jamaica and the books will be used with church school groups across the parishes of Trelawny, St James and Hanover.
Dionne Lewis (left) from the APlus Academy of Excellence and two assistant teachers with pupils from the school
While we were going around the Church, we met Dionne Lewis, Principal of Aplus Academy of Excellence in the Mount Salem district of Montego Bay. She was there with a group of her children and teachers to learn about Sam Sharpe. I gave copies of the Sam Sharpe publications for their school.
Mount James Day Care & Learning Centre, St Andrew
In addition, on a trip to Kingston, with Derek, the Italian film maker Giulia Amati, and Ivan Coore (whose brother Cat Coore is a member of Third World Band), we went to visit a coffee farm in the Blue Mountains. On the way, Ivan introduced me to a lovely lady, Mrs Violet Nelson JP (known by everyone as Miss Pansy) in Mount James District. Miss Pansy is the Chairperson of the local St James Day Care & Learning Centre. The Centre has 15 pupils, aged two to six years old, one teacher, one care giver and a cook. We were shown around this lovely and welcoming little school, and given the chance to observe the class, all neatly dressed in their smart uniforms, working away.
Miss Pansy told me that she went to this little school, and that her mother before her also went there.
Like Cacoon, and so many other schools in Jamaica, the St. James Day-Care Learning Centre is very short of basic resources, and Miss Pansy asked for my help. The school’s computer stopped working recently, so Miss Pansy is trying to find funds to buy some tablet computers. The Jamaican government wants every child to have access to tablets and are making lots of lessons available for these new devices. The problem, as ever, is that they are very expensive in Jamaica and so not all schools will be able to buy them. And, of course, many parents will not be able to give their children access to this new technology. There’s also a shortage of books in the school. I felt that the least I could do was to send Miss Pansy five sets of the Heritage Readers for her school.
On Wednesday April 30 I delivered more than 1,000 books to Cacoon School in Hanover Jamaica, to set up the school library.
As you can imagine, the children and staff were absolutely delighted. The excitement on the faces of the children as they picked up some of the books we had unpacked for the photograph was a joy to behold. Teachers, too, were very excited as they found books that they urgently needed to support their class work.
The Principal at Cacoon School, Mrs Carole Grant said: “This is a blessing. Please pass on my thanks to everyone who has donated books. This gift has come at a crucial time for us as we are trying to introduce new subjects into the curriculum.”
The books, which are valued at $JA 1.5 million, include basic readers, children’s story books, general information and reference books, black history books, dictionaries, puzzles, poetry and fiction. Also included are quantities of sturdy board books for the younger children who are just starting to learn to read. All the books are in first class condition and many are brand new.
This day was the fulfilment of a promise I made last year when I first revisited Cacoon – where I went to school as a young girl in Jamaica more than 50 years ago –and saw how great the need for reading resources was.
When I came back to England I launched an appeal via email and social media, and I want to say a heartfelt thank you to Geraldine Thomas and members of the congregation at Birches Evangelical Church; Elenor Carroll; Tony and Rose Kelly; John Tyrell; Marisol Grandon; Margot Lambert; Shelley Bishton; Derek Bishton; and Tamsin Bishton who donated books. I also want to make a special mention for Beverley Johnson at JLB Shipping who organised transport to Jamaica. Special thanks also to my husband Derek Bishton for driving to Kingston to pick up the books, and to my son Tim Crooks for lending us his truck to transport the books from the Beach House to Cacoon school.
So many people have contributed and a lot of hard work has gone into making this donation possible, but I am so thrilled that I have been able to bring a library to my old school up there in the hills of Hanover. I am determined to continue helping Cacoon, and I am also keenly aware that there are many other schools in Jamaica that need to be helped in a similar way. If you would like to help me with this project in any way at all, please get in contact.
I was so deeply touched by the skill and dedication of the teachers at my old school in Jamaica when I visited last year that I pledged to help them in any way I can.
The lack of even the most basic teaching resources in rural schools like my alma mater in Cacoon is really quite shocking, so as soon as I got back to the UK I started to go through the shelves at my house in Birmingham looking for books that would be suitable to send to them.
My cousin Wally Crooks, the famous Birmingham Jaguar dealer, happened to be sending a container with one of his beloved Jags to Jamaica, so I took the opportunity to load a crate of books on board.
I had found story books, general knowledge information books, poetry, languages, dictionaries, and religious stories suitable for different reading levels including early years readers, with a few for the teachers. In all, I sent 100 books.
When I visited Jamaica earlier this year, I picked up the box from Wally and Derek and I took them over to Cacoon and presented them to the Principal, Mrs Carole Grant (see the photo above). She was so pleased to receive the books, and particularly delighted with one called The By Myself Book which shows children and teachers how to create and develop projects from everyday objects such as cardboard boxes. She told me: ‘Some parents are finding it difficult to purchase books for their children, and we have no library at the school, so these books are so welcome.’
While we were at the school Derek took some photos of me and Mrs Grant and I later sent them to the reporter who covers this part of the island for the Jamaica Daily Observer, with some details about the donation. A few weeks later, a story appeared and here is the link to the online version.
I am determined to give the children of Cacoon School more books, and I would like your support in this. I am looking for books suitable for children aged 3 to 15, books which your own children may have read and no longer need, for instance – reading books, story books, dictionaries, activity books, poetry, etc.
It would be so nice if we could give each child a book to take home. If you have any suitable books, please email and let me know, and I will arrange to come and pick them up.
Winifred Atwell was a massive star.
I can remember her very well. When I arrived in Britain in the late 1950s, one of the the first black people I saw on British TV was Winifred Atwell playing the piano. A smiling, very radiant and pretty lady blasting out sounds on the piano. I was so mesmerized – I thought she was special.
My Mum and Dad absolutely loved her and never missed her appearance on the TV. In fact I think that Winifred Atwell made the black community in Britain, at the time, feel very proud.
She was phenomenally talented and successful, performed all over the world and sold millions of records. If you have never heard her play, then check out these videos.
Winifred died 30 years ago this month on the 28 February 1983.
Nanny of the Maroons. Jamaica's first National heroine.
Introduce your family to these beautiful sets of books with facinating profiles of key black figures in Jamaica’s history.
The real story of NANNY OF THE MAROONS, SAM SHARPE, and PAUL BOGLE, illustrated by top artists including Wilfred Limonious the famous Reggae LP cover designer.
Get these 5 books – Arawaks, Nanny, Tacky, Sam Sharpe and Paul Bogle for £10.00.
Also get a set of Rocky Basic Reading books – Rocky the Woodcarver, Rocky’s Village, Rocky’s Tour, Rocky’s Heroes, and Rocky’s Top Ten. These books introduce aspects of Jamaica’s life and culture, and are ideal for both adults and children.
I have vivid memories of Handsworth at the time when these self portraits were being taken. I was working for the Handsworth Alternative Scheme. This was a time when Handsworth was active and alive with a variety of self help groups, staffed by individuals like myself working to fight racism and to make a difference to the lives of black people.
It was about this time that I first met Derek. Sidelines, run by Derek, Brian and John, was the place where local projects would go to have posters, leaflets, annual reports etc prepared. I went because I wanted some publicity leaflets for my project.
It may take a few moments for the entire book to load on your screen, but it’s worth the wait.
Derek’s daughter Tamsin has written a very interesting blog about the photos http://contentmalcontent.posterous.com/the-original-ugc-project
Outside Cacoon School with Mrs Carole Grant, the Principal
I’m looking at a battered school register from 1957 that Carole Grant, the Principal of Cacoon All-Age School in Hanover has just pulled from the bottom drawer of a metal filing cabinet.
And there I am. In neat, clear handwriting is my name and date of birth, next to my brother Cosway. We came to school here in 1957 when – like so many of my generation did – we went to live with my granny after my mother left to join my father in England.
It was another three years before I left to join them, and during that time my world centred around the the tiny wooden classroom at Cacoon where I passed my JLE in 1958.
The school has changed beyond recognition. In 1957 it was one large open plan room with all ages in the same room. Today it is a two-storey concrete building with individual classrooms for each grade. At the entrance there is a lady – Miss Lena Grant, the gate-keeper – who asked us to sign the visitors’ register. It’s so important to keep records! I had linked up with Carole through Liz Milman, a former colleague at Handsworth College, who had been in Jamaica forging links between Uplands School in Wolverhampton and a school in Hanover. It was only when we met up at The Beach House, when she was leaving back to England, that I discovered that the school in Hanover she had linked up with was Cacoon – my old school.
So, through Liz I contacted Carole, and that’s how I came to be looking at my name in a register from 1957.
Carole welcomed myself and my husband Derek into her office and invited each teacher in turn down to her office so we could meet them: Mrs. Marlene Scarlett, Mrs. Maulene Morris, Miss Peta-gay Craigie, Mrs. Nervalene Crooks, Mrs. Paulin Bolt, Mrs Karen Dawes, Mrs. Natassia Lewis and Mrs Marcia Parr-Smith. Carole then took us on a tour of each classroom and introduced us to the children. In Grade 2 the children spontaneously offered to sing and did a brilliant rendition. This was so very wonderful and emotional for me.
I had brought a set each of the Rocky Basic Readers and the Heritage Readers to give to the school library which Carole and the other teachers received enthusiastically. Derek took a photo of me giving the books to Mrs. Nervalene Crooks, who is married to a relative from the Crooks clan.
I came away feeling inspired. Carole and her staff are battling incredible odds in terms of their lack of equipment and resources but still remaining positive and introducing innovative, community-based solutions.
Carole told me about the revision camp she and the other teachers run for two consecutive weekends before the GSAT (Grade 6 Achievement Test) that takes students into High School. The students live, eat and work at the school with no distractions from Friday night through to Sunday evening, including a trip to church.
With this level of commitment to build on, I can only hope that the link with Uplands School, Wolverhampton will bring some resources and support for Carole and her team. I’m certainly going to be supporting this.
As I was leaving, on my way to the car in the school playground, I heard a voice saying quietly “Aunty Blossom, Aunty Blossom”. It was my cousin Jevan, who attends the school, and who was obviously very pleased and surprised to see me.
There’s just so much talent and potential up there in the hills behind Lucea, just as there is all over Jamaica, waiting to be unleashed on the world. How can we make it happen?
At Cacoon School, handing over a set of Handprint books to Mrs Nervalene Crooks