The Wee Spanish Mobile Library- La Biciteca

The community work done with the Biciteca prompted an Early Day Motion in Parliament

While working as a Trustee for Familias en Glasgow (FEG), a small charity that supports Spanish-speaking migrant families in the city (from Spain and Latin America), I co-developed and coordinated The Wee Spanish Mobile Library- La Biciteca a unique community art project in the UK, being awarded several funding grants, including two Big Lottery grants. The book bike held an exclusive collection of children’s books in Spanish and offers free storytelling sessions in local parks, museums and festivals in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling. A successful partnership with Glasgow City Council made it possible to deliver funded storytelling sessions at early years centres and primary schools in Glasgow and helped the charity to become financially more sustainable.

The initiative aimed to encourage children from all backgrounds, to live in and understand a globalised world where communication across languages and cultures will be an essential skill to cherish but also to protect. The activities were designed to enhance children’s linguistic skills and general well-being in a fun and didactic way, and offer a space to imagine, explore and interact in the community language (Spanish) or in a new language.

The original idea was inspired by similar initiatives in the Hispanic world that aim to put free books in the hands of people by bringing those resources to them in economic and eco-friendly mobile libraries, such as the “Bibliocletas” in Mexico or the Biblioburro in Colombia.

Sin Fronteras Leadership Project

Sin Fronteras Leadership programme was a unique collaborative project between the Open World Research Initiative and the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London, and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service in partnership with Southwark Council. The multidisciplinary project included a series of creative workshops aimed to explore community formation, the significance of language and its relation and relevance to community formation, leadership and civic participation.
For over a six week-programme, the different art workshops aimed to explore the way young Latin American women and girls perceive their own cultural, linguistic and gender identity in a creative, critical and engaging way.

This example tries to show how tutors could recycle everyday materials to create simple multi-sensory teaching materials.

Art, Language, Creativity and Dementia

Several studies have shown the importance of creative activities as an effective way to reach out and reconnect with people with different capabilities and at different stages of their life. From music, dance movement therapy to art workshops, there have been several initiatives in the UK working successfully with people with dementia. For instance, Dementia and Imagination is a research project in the UK that looks at the benefits that art activities can bring to people with dementia, but instead of using art as a therapeutic tool, delivered by an art therapist, it proposes to work on participatory and socially engaged art as a way to connect communities in a creative way. As part of the Lingo Flamingo tutor training programme in partnership between the Open University and the social enterprise Lingo Flamingo, I contributed to the development of tutorials and teaching materials examining the relevance, benefits and obstacles that creative practices and multi-sensory approaches can bring to language learning in a care setting.

Cartonera Creative Engagement Project

Picture by Angeles Ródenas

The Cartonera Workshops was a collaborative effort between two different AHRC projects in England – namely the OWRI’s Cross Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community from the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London and Cartonera Publishing: Relations, meaning and community in movement, the British Library, and the third-sector organisation, the Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organisation (IRMO), Southwark Council and the Migration Museum. The Cartoneras workshop aimed to explore notions of community, identity, and language through a series of workshops, from creative writing to book making. The idea was to imprint the voices of young Latin Americans in London at the time the UK was going to exit the EU.

The project included three different outreach public events:

a. Cartoneras Book Making Workshop at the British Library

b. Cartoneras Final Exhibition at PemPeople, Peckham.

c. Cartoneras in London: Untold Stories from Latin America as part of the Being Human Festival in partnership with the Migration Museum, IRMO, University of Surrey and Southwark Council.“Now we are in London, things have changed a lot. Now we are going to learn another language, which is English, and I hope that, as time goes by, everything will work out as we expect. And if everything is OK, I will be happy”. An extract from a Cartonera art book written by a 13-year old participant from Ecuador (my translation).

The Cartoneras project has been deemed by IRMO Senior Programme Manager as the organisation’s identity card:

“The new contacts made during the project have been fruitful. […] Cartoneras facilitated the involvement of the young people in the planning and consultation to develop new projects, contributing to make them feel more invested in the programme and giving them more opportunities to work with new partners and to explore new spaces and ways of work”.

Picture by Angeles Ródenas, Migration Museum

Southwark Latin American Network (SLAN)


The Southwark Latin American network emerged organically from my action-research on community engagement and the Latin American community in Southwark. Based on previous research, I looked at existing structures within Southwark to explore whether we could implement some recommendations to support service provision for the community in the borough, and a closer and more sustainable relationship between the Latin American community and Southwark.

In July 2018, in partnership with Southwark Council and Community Southwark we started co-developing and coordinating the Latin American cross-sector network in Southwark. At its initial stage, the Latin American network brought together the local government (Southwark Council), non-profit (Latin American organisations, stakeholders and providers of services for the Latin American community in Southwark and neighbouring boroughs), public organisations (University of London, Public Health Southwark, HIV Commission Lead and Clinical Commissioning Groups).

The network was based on Community Southwark’s existing network model known as “Provider Led Group/Network” (PLG). PLGs were designed to encourage peer support between communities and organisations of different sizes and stages of development and are facilitated by Community Southwark to ensure that the groups were plugged in, joined-up and could get their messages across to opinion formers and decision makers.

The network aimed to support Latin American representation in Southwark, and to articulate a common understanding of issues, needs, goals and solutions, increasing more effective collaborative working, reducing gaps and duplication in programs, and improving services for the Latin American community at a local level. In 2021 after much deliberation, the network elected a Chair, who became a representative of Southwark Voice for the very first time. In 2022, Community Southwark allocated specific budget to develop this network and R.E.A.C.H Alliance, a network created to represent Southwark’s Black and minority ethnic communities in the decisions and policies that affect them.

During the Covid-19 outbreak, the network with the Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK, we wrote a letter to Public Health England to raise concerns about the statistical invisibility of the Latin American community and the need to include it on the government’s review on the impact of Covid-19 on the BAME communities.

In September 2021, we co-organised and co-delivered a cross-sector conference, where the Latin American community presented a set of asks to the Council.

This was considered a groundbreaking moment for the community in their fight for social justice and representation.

“I would like to be able to communicate better with my child’s school”

“I want to be able to speak to my GP without an interpreter”

Despite high levels of employment within the community, Latin Americans in London face several barriers. Proficiency in English is one of the most significant barriers to accessing key services such as education, health, and social care services (McIlwaine and Bunge, 2016; Berg, 2017; Granada, 2013). A lack of English language skills can also result in lower wages and limited educational and employment opportunities.

English language learning access to ESOL classes is one of the main needs of the Latin American community in London and in high demand. However, due to funding cuts in the last decade at a local and national level, English language learning providers are usually oversubscribed. Classes are generally scheduled at times unsuitable for those working in hospitality and cleaning services, and even if some classes are free and accessible, free childcare is not necessarily provided. This affects women who are more likely to live in households with dependent children.

Working with The Latin American Women’s Rights Service we co-created an Online English Language Course to support the organisation’s Language Café. The Language Café was initially created by LAWRS in 2017 as a Spanish and English language exchange ‘café’ with Paxton Green Time Bank (PGTB) in Southwark. The Café was supported by the Feminist Review Trust and led by women from LAWRS and PGTB who shared language skills and social opportunities, in an exchange called timebanking.

In its current format, the Language Café offers Latin American women the opportunity to learn English in an informal, safe, and community-based learning environment. In March 2020, as part of our partnership with Southwark Council, LAWRS and the Institute of Modern Languages Research joined forces to develop an online language teaching programme for and by Latin American women in London.

The course encompasses English Language learning with vital information about life in the UK, and in particular in London, from practical information about how to access health services, understand the education system, to labour rights, as well as general knowledge on culture and politics, as identified by the learning community.

Picture by Angeles Ródenas, Cartoneras Engagement Project, Migration Museum, 2019.

Southwark Latin American Community Conference

The cross-sector conference brought together Latin American organisations, community leaders, academics, and decision makers in Southwark to discuss and reflect on the needs and challenges faced by the Latin American communities in Southwark, as well as to consider the community’s assets and existing resources.

The virtual conference aimed to explore opportunities for collaboration to bring about change, offer solutions, and improve representation in Southwark.
The conference was organised by the Southwark Latin American Network (SLAN) in partnership with Community Southwark, with the support of the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London.

The conference was a collaborative and collective effort that aimed to:

  1. Present research on community engagement in Southwark with the Latin American community
  2. Introduce the Southwark Latin American Network (SLAN)
  3. Discuss forms of collaboration across sectors
  4. Present a set of asks – by the community organisations

The conference was introduced by Community Southwark CEO, Chris Mikata-Pralat, and Cllr Alice MacDonald (Cabinet Member for Equalities, Neighbourhoods and Leisure), and Cllr Maria Linforth-Hall spoke about the importance of engaging with the Latin American community in Southwark.

Please see report on “Research”.

Pedro Gil, Carnaval del Pueblo, giving a presentation at the Southwark Latin American Community Conference.
Screenshot of his presentation, which includes quotes from my research.

‘The Worlds of Spanish’: A New Online Language Course

In 2021, with colleagues from the Open University, I co-authored an online Spanish language course for Future Learn. The course looks at the usual elements of Spanish learning language but with a more in-depth cultural content, which focuses on the multiple landscapes, cultures, and languages of the regions in which Spanish is spoken.

“Before having this course, I only know about 2-3 Spanish-speaking groups. Spain, Portugal and Latin America. I am enlightened with the explanation provided in this lesson” (Student)

Cardboard Stories: Artist Books by Multilingual Families in Glasgow

Engagement-led Undergraduate Scholarship: Bringing Multilingual Students and Communities Together

I am currently developing an UG community-engaged learning course in Spanish, which aims to promote active learning strategies within Modern Languages. The course explores community engagement, migration, and diaspora in the UK more broadly, and the Spanish and Latin American communities more specifically, considering different engagement methodologies and approaches in multilingual contexts. The course aims to integrate community-engaged experiences and projects with academic course content, while providing benefit to Scotland’s local communities.

  • Approach to Student-Centred Active Learning: this is a student and project-centred course, which seeks to work as a model within Hispanic Studies to explore new methods and approaches to language teaching and learning. Students will explore the role and place of community languages within migration and diaspora studies by analysing language policies, educational policies, and studying concepts such as multilingualism and language heritage in the UK, before deciding on their project and reflect on its possible outcomes and challenges, as well as social and ethical implications.
  • Transforming curricula and assessment: As part of the assessment, students will identify the communities’ linguistic needs and barriers and produce materials and resources in Spanish for the Spanish-speaking communities in Scotland. This is currently a unique active learning approach within the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Glasgow, as students will create tangible and much-needed multilingual resources for the communities. Students will also write a reflective piece about developing their community project, by linking their work to theory and context, including the challenges they faced and the solutions they found.
  • Students’ Professional & Skills Development: the course includes the exploration of several engagement activities, from arts-based projects to translation exercises, as well as individual reflection and teamwork. Students will work in teams to decide, design and execute a project (as detailed below). The different activities will foster leadership skills, problem solving, organisational skills, and communication skills, including digital skills (such as co-drafting tools, crowd mapping, or visual collaboration platforms). By the end of the course, students will have a better understanding of migration and language policies in the UK, and the many intersectional barriers faced by different migrant communities, while focusing on tangible solutions (e.g. a quick guide about the education system in Scotland in Spanish).

At a later stage, we aim to build partnerships with local community organisations where students will develop further interactions and work-related activities (as from 2023).

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