— Ellie Broughton

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Shannon Trust volunteers reading

Since most of us learn to read and write in the first year or two of school, it feels almost impossible to imagine not being able to. But Angela Cairns, CEO of prisoners reading charity Shannon Trust, knows all too well how illiteracy can feel

Half of England’s prisoners are illiterate. Since most of us learn to read and write in the first year or two of school, it feels almost impossible to imagine. But Angela Cairns, CEO of prisoners reading charity Shannon Trust, knows all too well how illiteracy can feel.

“I sometimes hear a prisoner describing themselves as a ‘bad ‘un’. They say: ‘I was a bad ‘un because I was frustrated’, ‘because I couldn’t read the letters and notices that went around’, or ‘I couldn’t choose what I wanted to eat from a menu card, so I’m just randomly picking’. These are people who feel they have so little control over their lives that they can’t even choose what to eat.”

There are several charities that teach prisoners how to read, but Shannon Trust is unique: all of its 2,000 or so mentors are prisoners themselves. Prisoner–mentors, working with the charity, are helping more than 4,000 other inmates learn to read. The need is huge: 50 per cent of all prisoners in England are ‘functionally illiterate’, meaning they have a reading age of 11 or lower, while many are completely illiterate. The impact on their employability, unsurprisingly, is huge. You can read more about that story on the Positive News website, and in the magazine. 

Positive News is a media co-operative owned by readers and journalists worldwide, and profits are reinvested in journalism. In 2015 Positive News became a community benefit society (a form of co-op) invested in by more than 1,500 people in 33 countries, age 18-89, who each have equal influence. They’re just about the best people to work for, and it was great to have the chance to profile the Sharon Trust for their latest issue.

Positive News

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In the midst of cuts and rising rates of infection, there was one good news story for sexual health in the UK this year: In March, sex and relationship education (SRE) was made compulsory in state schools in England. Evidence collated by the Sex Education Forum backs the decision up, as do STI rates (and teen pregnancy and abortion stats) in countries that already provide good quality, age-appropriate, comprehensive SRE.

The FPA welcomed the Government’s decision but its chief exec pointed out that in order to be effective, funding must be allocated to ensure schools will be supported through teacher training and have access to high quality resources.

And if the government can’t find the money for sexual health services, how can the public expect it to pay for the sex ed they’ve promised?

I spoke to UK GPs and policy experts about the UK’s sexual health cuts for Tonic, Vice’s health website.

See my last article for them, What Was It Like To Go To The Doctor in 1610?, on the same site, and if you like reading about health you might also like my work for NetDoctor:

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Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and the film that followed, spurred a new generation of women to tackle huge walks like the 2,650km-long Pacific Coastal Trail. But one walker had already set out on another, much longer, walk when Reese Witherspoon hit the big screen.

Sarah Jackson had just finished her sociology degree when she embarked on one of the most gruelling anti-gap years imaginable. Some 10,600km later, though, she’s smiling: at the end of this month, aged 24, she’ll become the first woman to walk across Canada from coast to coast. (She still hasn’t read or seen Wild, though).

She often walked with a partner, and admits she took breaks to go home for Christmas, but has essentially spent two years living outdoors, out of a backpack, spending much of her time alone.

Sarah was kind enough to talk to me about her trek for Refinery29’s UK site. Read more here.

If you’re interested in reading more work I’ve done for the site, check out:

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05xejnbRAn Elle article about the daily diet of a so-called health expert had foaming at the mouth, so I wrote about it for Independent Voices, the comment site for The Independent. 

It was the irony that first caught everybody’s eye.

“Bacon,” one person tweeted – enough to catch anyone’s attention. “Her name is Bacon.”

Amanda Bacon runs a juice bar in LA and was just featured on the website for US Elle. It was a ‘day in the life’ feature about what she eats – or, to be more accurate, what she doesn’t eat.

Because Amanda Bacon’s ‘diet’ consists of only a handful of solid food every 24 hours. She consumes (spoiler alert): tea, a warm drink, veggie ‘shots’, juice, bee pollen, cashews, another juice ‘shot’, raw courgette and olives, more tea, coconut yoghurt, fresh and dried fruit, hemp milk, seaweed and mushroom broth, and almond milk. At bedtime, she eats chocolate made from raw cacao, mushrooms, and rice protein.

At one point she literally eats dust. ‘Brain dust’, to be exact: it’s hard to tell from the website what’s in this supplement for nut milk. My guess is, not brains.

Click here to keep reading. You might also want to read other rants, raves and disclosures:

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“Six months ago I wouldn’t have agreed to be interviewed for a newspaper – absolutely no confidence there at all,” Paul confides.

“I’ve been using tools all my life, so that’s not much of an issue, but the main difficulty is actually dealing with people. At one point I just wouldn’t go near people. Now I can at least talk to them. I’m not exactly fond of it yet but I’m not running away from it either.”

I spoke to Paul about the charity project Restoration Station – a furniture restoration course for people going through rehab. Click here to see the feature in full on the Hackney Citizen’s website.

I worked as the features editor at the Citizen in 2015, covering stories including:

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