The Foundation of Beyond The Page

Sheila: We live and work in Thanet, east Kent, a seaside community with a predominantly white British population. From 2008 to 2014, I was teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in Adult Education, whilst also working to a doctorate in education.

My research focus was on how women from outside the UK fit into coastal and rural spaces, what are their barriers to belonging and how, as ESOL professionals, can we find ways to offer innovative and flexible provision to meet their needs? The work highlighted that developing speaking confidence and finding the right to be listened to, were priorities for migrant women of all ability levels in their English language journeys.

Macdonald, S. (2013) ESOL in the UK: A critical feminist analysis. Thesis: University of Sheffield
Click here for this publication

Macdonald, S. (2013) ESOL in the UK: A critical feminist analysis. Thesis overview (17pps) shortlisted for Christopher Brumfit Award

Macdonald, S. (2013) Migration and English Language Learning in the UK: towards a feminist theorizing. Power and Education Vol.5(3) 2013 pp 291-303

Macdonald, S. (2014)I’ve got a hole inside: multilingual mothers’ experiences of raising children in another language.” Migrant mothers caring for the future: creative interventions in making new citizens. London: Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research, London South Bank University 18-19 Sept 2014

Macdonald, S. (2015) “Migrant Women in east Kent as mothers and learners of English”. Women and Migration in contexts of social exclusion. ESRC Festival for Social Science, Canterbury Christ Church University 11 Nov 2015

During 2013-14 I was experiencing a practice dilemma with a group of adult beginners who had physical, emotional and intellectual obstacles to engaging in the first stages of English. The result was a breakdown of trust between the learners and college, and distress and suspicion were palpable in the classroom. I approached Jodi whom I knew through her choir “Sing Your Socks Off”  and invited her to help me get their voices up and out into the room.

Jodi: I have over 20 years’ experience in production, making and performance around the UK.
My passion is raw energy exchange, and I delight in creating opportunities within my community for meaningful connection. I have developed singing for those with dementia and their carers as well as community choirs.

The fundamental premise of a ‘Natural Voice’ approach is that everyone is born with a voice to be celebrated and enjoyed for its natural beauty. The ‘natural voice’ is the one we all have, untrained and healthy, able to express emotion, ideas and experiences . Sheila’s invitation was my first experience of being in an adult education classroom.

The Initial Collaboration 2014

Jodi and I worked together for a year, to explore whether the introduction of Natural Voice methods and creative activities could help address learners’ barriers. We focussed on engagement and participation; vocal exploration; retention and reproduction; and independence and new language.


Early results from a short action research project were promising but sadly our cross-disciplinary approach did not meet inspection criteria and targets. Enjoyment, confidence and collective endeavour did not have a box to tick. We decided that the work needed a safer space to develop and we left, heading for unemployment and time to reflect.

During these months, we began to imagine a space where women would be safe, welcome at any time, where all voices would be engaged and heard and we could have fun and laughter in our communal learning.

Macdonald, S. & Watson, J. (2022) Voice Activated: a transformative approach to language learning.
Language and Intercultural Communication Click here for this publication.

Macdonald, S. & Watson, J. (2014) Introduction and Research Questions. Engagement through creativity and voice: alternative teaching and learning methods with beginner ESOL learners. ETF/emCETT Practitioner Action Research Programme

Macdonald, S. & Watson, J. (2014) Theory and Methodology. Engagement through creativity and voice: alternative teaching and learning methods with beginner ESOL learners. ETF/emCETT Practitioner Action Research Programme

Macdonald, S. & Watson, J. (2014) Engagement through creativity and voice: alternative teaching and learning methods with beginner ESOL learners. ETF/emCETT Practitioner Action Research Programme.
Click here to view the presentation

Beyond The Page Ltd: “Women’s Voices Together, Building Strong Communities”

In 2015, I established Beyond The Page (BTP) to specifically address some of the issues raised during my research and teaching experience. It provided a formal framework for fund-raising and organising the work. The programme became known as the United Mothers project, named by the members of our first group, although all women were equally welcome.

The vision

This remained largely unchanged; it was based on the premise that formal ESOL education by itself contributes to, but does not result in, social cohesion. We were concerned to engage the investment not only of migrant language learners, but also of English speakers who are interested in better communication and positive relationship with their neighbours and colleagues. I proposed:

  • A unique, creative, learning and socialising inter-cultural space for women of all backgrounds to build English language skills, make friends and build community connections
  • The key aim was to build the speaking confidence of women born outside the UK
  • The practice would be entirely cross-methodological, with the ESOL tutor and Natural Voice / Community Arts practitioner sharing responsibility for programme development, content, delivery and assessment
  • Sessions would be based locally, and a priority would be reaching mothers of young children, with a creche where possible
  • All projects would be long term, with no assessment, progression route or exams; no fee at any stage or eligibility check and no attendance rules, allowing women to come and go as needed
  • Curricula would emerge from women’s current needs, language stages and interests
  • Partner organisations would be asked to be active participants in the programme
  • An ongoing aim was to establish a multi-layered participant group of learners, volunteers, staff and facilitators, modelling collaborative learning on an equal basis
  • Outreach work would be integral, making and strengthening links.

“What I have always admired about BTP is the “beyond”. Your work eschews a mechanistic and blinkered, narrow focus on language acquisition and progression narrowly understood. Rather, it intertwines English language education inextricably with what actually makes settlement and indeed citizenship possible. These are the things that matter: friendship, laughter, enjoyment, action, togetherness.”


BTP’s first non-executive directors were Leonie Jordan (treasurer), Sarah Christie, Frances Moran, Marianela Gamboa de Clayton and Melanie Cooke. We are indebted to them for their encouragement, skills, advice and ongoing commitment.

Our initial funders were Tudor Trust, Allen Lane Foundation, National Lottery Awards for All and Kent Community Foundation. Again, we are enormously grateful to them for listening to the initial vision and remaining supportive, understanding colleagues as the project grew.