The group, known as FREE, an acronym for Friendly and Relaxed Educational English, meets every Monday evening at 7pm at Yates bar in the Bournemouth town centre by Horseshoe Common.
A committed group of local volunteers serve as informal teachers who lead small discussion groups to give non-native speakers an opportunity to converse and assist them on everything from tricky pronunciation to explaining our quirky English idioms.
The group was set up 6 years ago by former teacher and long-time Bournemouth resident, Andy Watkins.
‘It just started as an extra class activity to help some of our students with their conversation skills, with just myself, one other teacher and only 4 learners. I never expected it to grow into something so large”
The group’s popularity has surged in recent years as the population of Bournemouth has become increasingly culturally diverse and the town’s growing reputation as a language school destination has increased the number of foreign students. They now have nearly 3000 followers on Facebook and regularly welcome over 120 learners each week, all looking to improve their English skills and meet new people.
‘The only qualification you need is to love people – be kind, welcoming and enthusiastic.’
‘It takes a lot of hard work and organisation every week to sustain the club but when I see how appreciative everyone is I know it is worth the effort,” Andy says. ‘ We have a great bunch of volunteers who buy into our vision of creating a friendly and relaxing environment for people to learn the language. The only qualification you need is to love people – be kind, welcoming and enthusiastic.’
‘We receive learners not just from Europe but from all over the world – I’ve met people from Guatemala , The Ivory Coast and even a student from Mongolia here.”
Andrea, who arrived in Bournemouth from Hungary in 2016, began attending FREE club in her only second week in town after a friend suggested they try to improve their level of English.
‘At first I was so nervous,” she recalls. “I didn’t have any confidence in speaking. I remember my first table leader was so kind and lovely, he told me to just have a try and speak and not to worry. He really inspired me. I have been coming back ever since!’
‘Here you can be from anywhere, studying or working as anything and you will be welcomed all the same.’