— Ellie Broughton

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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Philip Wilton, who runs Wildes in Tottenham, making and selling artisanal cheeses such as the semi-hard cow’s milk Ally Pally White, says the lack of information about Brexit is leaving his business vulnerable

As the value of the pound falls and costs rise, Brexit will stretch small and independent British cheesemakers and -mongers to breaking point. Sadly, this might be a crisis that we can’t just eat our way out of.

Read more of this feature on Eater, and see coverage of my story by London newspaper City AM and The Independent.

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Nicole Kidman plays Julia Edwards in series two

Twelve-year-old Tui Mitcham is missing. A search party of farmers and bikers meets in the town’s dive bar, gathered under her father’s leadership. From the front of the room, his gaze pans the room. His eyes drift over a woman at the far end of the bar, dressed in a pristine black parka, and snag on her for a moment. Robin Griffin grew up in that town, and she got out: now she’s back to investigate Tui’s case. Matt Mitcham might have the microphone, but Griffin has the power.

Read more on The Pool.

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This year I was lucky enough to join the BBC Springwatch team to write the live blog.

For three weeks, I wrote live updates from 8am to 9pm from the Sherborne Park Estate in Gloucestershire, in the heart of the Cotswolds.

You can see the archived updates here, and if you’d like to know anything else about how the live blog worked, please get in touch by email.

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