Two years ago, at the height of the pandemic, lecturer Claire Wardle took voluntary redundancy from a local college – now she employs 10 staff helping our region’s most vulnerable people.
Faced with the choice of leaving her former employer – or continuing in a vastly reduced team – Claire Wardle opted for redundancy in May 2020. The following month she’d set up her own business Key Subject Tuition in Cookson House, South Shields, with the aim of teaching students in the evenings.
Two years on – with ten colleagues – Claire’s students include women escaping the Ukrainian war, asylum seekers fleeing persecution, as well as local parents home-schooling children.
“I thought it was just going to be a private tuition centre for maths and English. Then we were approached by various companies in the area asking for support and it just grew massively from there. Soon tuition was fully booked and I had to look for more staff.”
Since then, Claire and her team put together a training package teaching English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to win a contract with South Tyneside Works. Their clients include 20 asylum seekers, many of which are keen, not only to learn English to an employable standard, but also to learn maths and IT skills. In recent months, they have been joined by 19 Ukrainian women whose husbands are back home fighting in the war against Russia.
“The women want to do all the classes they can. So much so that we’re oversubscribed and we’re having to put more lessons on during the week. Many of the women are so distressed and upset but, thankfully, our classes can be a positive distraction.
“It means they’ve got some comfort with people from home who speak their language and they can chat with each other and, on other days, meet up and support each other”
Key Subject Tuition has also won the contract to deliver Multiply, the governments new adult numeracy programme.
For that, Claire is overseeing bespoke classes including working with the DWP and local foodbanks teaching debt and money management and helping parents to assist children sitting SATs and GCSEs.
A third class will help parents teaching children who have chosen not to attend school for reasons as diverse as bullying, anxiety and transgender pupils in transition.
What has made her success extra special is that Claire herself struggled with dyslexia at school.
“I left with little in the way of qualifications. Redundancy was a low point but within weeks I was searching YouTube trying to find out how to make a website for my new business and it’s just grown and grown,” she explained
“I get very emotional when I think about how far we’ve come and who we have helped. Everyone, without exception, just wants to play their part in the local community. They want to work and they want to contribute what they can.”
Last month Key Subject Tuition joined those adding their name to the South Tyneside Pledge. The business has promised to help boost local economic activity, reduce health inequalities, reduce carbon emissions and enhance civic pride.
Cllr Margaret Meling, Lead Member for Economic Growth, Skills and Climate Change, said:
“For Claire to have set up Key Subjection Tuition amidst the pandemic, when there was so much uncertainty, and to see where it is now is remarkable.
“It is a personal success story, but it is also a reflection of what happens when you have the energy and the dedication and the desire to help.
“Claire has built a great team and it is a very modern community business – employing locally and providing a vital local service. It is a real local asset and a fitting example of the South Tyneside Pledge in action”.