Volunteering with Bookmark Reading to change children’s life stories

Andy By Andy

Walking the streets near our office, you can’t move for tributes to UK literary history. Half of the pubs in Soho claim to have been frequented by Dylan Thomas, Charles Dickens or George Orwell, there’s a massive Harry Potter statue in Leicester Square, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre stands tall on the banks of the Thames.

When you consider the richness of our literary history, it is very surprising that one in four children leave primary school unable to read well. Being unable to read well by the time you head into secondary school can have a significant impact, limiting young people’s opportunities for further education and employment. Bookmark Reading is a charity taking action to help children become confident readers – and we’re getting involved.

Bookmark Reading warns that children don’t get enough one-on-one reading time with teachers – in some cases just a few minutes a week. In response, Bookmark runs a volunteer-led programme that pairs an adult up with a primary school-age child who needs extra help with reading. Volunteers are given training and a whole host of books and materials to help children progress through six levels of reading.

Jenny Cater, Volunteer Attraction & Engagement Manager, Bookmark Reading Charity, said: “Any person willing to give up their time to help a child discover the joy of reading would make a great volunteer. PR professionals by nature of their jobs tend to be good communicators so they would enjoy helping children with their reading! As a volunteer, you'll spend two thirty-minute sessions a week reading stories and playing games with a child aged between five and ten, on our secure online platform.”

Sparking into action

Storytelling sits at the core of everything our agency does, so we’re giving all employees the opportunity to fit Bookmark reading sessions in as part of their working day. We’ve had some great uptake across the agency, with more people keen to get involved when they speak to volunteers about their experiences.

From a personal point of view, I have vivid memories of the moment I fell in love with reading in primary school. Once one of my teachers got hold of some football-based fiction, a passion was ignited and my parents were struggling to keep pace with my demands for more reading materials. Young boys are less likely to enjoy reading than girls, so I elected to choose a boy as my reading partner, and am happy that Rob has also signed up as a volunteer so we can help cut the gap to the girls!

Meanwhile Raksha has been excited to see a previously shy child growing in confidence across the weeks they have been reading together, going from being very quiet to discussing everything from Halloween celebrations to how to grow tomato plants. Raksha misses reading with her own children now they have grown up, and has been getting a real buzz from being able to help a child fall in love with reading.

You can also volunteer in person at local schools that require assistance. Ana will be volunteering for twelve weeks with a child in her local area. She says she is nervous but also excited about getting started.

Bookmark is having a big impact – Jenny Cater continues: “Over the school year 2022-2023, we delivered 40,100 reading sessions and in 2023-2024 we hope to deliver 50,741 individual reading sessions to children. By becoming a volunteer, you can help us achieve this goal and ignite the joy of reading. A huge thank you from all the team at Bookmark Reading Charity to all of Spark's volunteers for helping us to change children's life stories.”

Anybody can get involved – you can sign up here. We’ll make sure to share an update on how the team’s volunteering experience progresses in a follow up blog, as well as on our social media channels.