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Ginny Lunn, CEO of Beanstalk

“Beanstalk, a national children’s reading charity, was founded in 1973 by a lady called Susan Belgrave. She was a social activist and saw that children were struggling in her community and she wanted to make a difference. She knew education was so important to give children the best chance in life and a small group of friends started reading with children in primary schools. 45 years later this is still our main focus. However, we have shifted significantly from a small amount of children being supported in a few local primary schools and now support over 13,300 children a year through a network of 3600 volunteers. We also support children aged as young as 3 and as old as 13.

We need people like Susan to take action and we also want to encourage more young people to help. The world of reading and literature has changed in the past few decades, there is so much more choice, characters are more varied and relatable to more children. Books focus much more on aliens, objects (such as crayons), situations (such as there being a potential shark in the park!) and completely new inventions (Gruffalos). These characters no longer relate to a small percentage of children but enable children from completely different backgrounds to relate to the same character like never before. In general, we tend to listen to and be guided more by children, gone is the notion of seen and not heard. We embrace that within our reading sessions and encourage children to chose the books and read at a pace that suits them.

We embrace this new way of thinking with our reading sessions so we must also embrace this within our programmes. In November 2016, we pledged to the #iwill campaign, to encourage young people to take part in social action and make a real difference in their community and, in turn, the world. That’s why we launched Reading Leaders. This is a completely new adventure for Beanstalk and we’re thrilled to be able to take part in the #iwill campaign and gain all the support from the team. Reading Leaders is a peer-to-peer programme where the Beanstalk trainers spend a day training the ‘Reading Leaders’, older students within the school, to understand what makes a good reader and to support people who need to improve their reading skills. The Reading Leader then works with younger students within the school to help improve these skills. It’s a win-win situation; the younger student improves their reading confidence and ability and the older student makes a difference within their school, can be seen as a role model, showcases their initiative and, hopefully, plants that seed of desire to get involved more in social action.

Volunteers often say to me ‘I think I get more out of this than the children!’ and this can be said for Reading Leaders. But don’t take it from me, Mark Seymour, Assistant Head Teacher at Longsands Academy refers to Reading Leaders in this comment which I will finish on.

‘There was one boy, Tom, who was a very reluctant reader. I put a lot of thought into who might work with him as I knew that it wouldn’t be easy and I chose Sam. Sam was obviously seen as cool and a well-connected kid who understood the importance of reading. Tom’s reading age improved from 8 years and 8 months to 11 years and 2 months [in the period they worked together]. When I told Sam the results, he had tears in his eyes. He has been the perfect role model for Tom and was able to totally change Tom’s attitude to reading, who admits to loving reading now!’”