National Literacy Trust in Swindon celebrates local volunteers with event at The Mayor’s Parlour

By Jamie Hill - 7 June 2024


This Volunteers’ Week, the National Literacy Trust in Swindon celebrated its volunteer Literacy Champions with a special event at The Mayor’s Parlour on Tuesday 4 June.

18 local volunteers were able to attend to meet the new Mayor and Mayoress and reflect on a year of incredible volunteering and changing life stories through literacy.

The National Literacy Trust in Swindon empowers 58 volunteer Literacy Champions who inspire the people around them to read and write for enjoyment in their daily lives.

They work in the heart of their communities delivering events and activities that bring the magic of reading to life and help give families the confidence they need to share stories together from the very start.

The Literacy Champions give their time to lead five free weekly Story and Rhyme Time groups for 0–5s across Walcot, Penhill, Pinehurst and the town centre.

In attendance at Tuesday’s event was Carol Bridges, who alongside fellow volunteers, does just this. Carol is one of the volunteers who runs a Story and Rhyme Time session at Pinetrees Library, she also hides book gifts in her local community and together with other volunteers coordinates a book table at St Mary’s Church’s coffee mornings.

Also there were two Youth Literacy Champions, Lia and Joanna, from St Joseph’s Catholic College who help bring a love of books from their school library to beyond the school gates, hiding books in public spaces during the school holidays for families to discover.

Other volunteers present included Hayley Purnell and Theresa Torr who manage a popular community bookshelf at their weekly toddler group at The Salvation Army community centre in Gorse Hill, where they foster reading for pleasure from the first years of a child’s life.

At a time when children’s enjoyment of reading in their free time has hit an all-time low, the work of Swindon’s volunteer Literacy Champions makes a vital difference. With schools doing all that they can to support children’s literacy inside the classroom, the opportunities children have to read, write and communicate before they start school and outside of school are essential because if you find these things hard, you struggle to learn.

In 2023, just two in five 8-18-year-olds in the South West said they enjoy reading in their free time, while one in 14 8-18-year-olds in the South West said they did not have a single book of their own at home in 2023.

The picture is worse among 5-8-year-olds, with one in six in the South West saying in 2023 that they did not have a book of their own at home.

This matters because access to books increases the likelihood of reading for enjoyment, which is a crucial foundation for developing literacy skills for life. The National Literacy Trust in Swindon is tackling this issue head on and has gifted nearly 4,200 books in the last year alone.

Anish Harrison, Manager for the National Literacy Trust in Swindon, said: “I want to thank our wonderful volunteer Literacy Champions for their invaluable work. We know from experience what a difference we can make when we work side-by-side with communities, enhancing children’s in-school experiences with opportunities to engage with reading, writing and storytelling in their free time where they grow up. For so many children in Swindon, our volunteers open the door to literacy, giving them the tools they need to get where they want to go.”

The Mayor, Councillor Imtiyaz Shaikh said: “It was absolutely amazing to meet all the wonderful volunteers at the National Literacy Trust, and I admired their passion behind what they do for our Swindon children and young people. Education is a way out of poverty, and these key individuals are helping out our children in more ways than one – they’re helping children learn to love reading and learning but it’s also about helping them gain confidence. We really need more wonderful volunteers like them, and I really wish NLT all the very best and look forward to working with them.”

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