It all starts with a book ...
Books and stories have always been part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of stories that my mum and dad told me. I remember learning to read with my mum, and this being extended through the Janet and John books when I began at school in 1970.
I remember the long, made up story that my Dad created for me about the “French Onion Seller”, who travelled the world on his bike with the onions tied up with string over the handlebars - and the one about the rare haggis bird that flies backwards so it doesn’t get dust in its eyes.
These are special memories – the bedrock of the relationship with my parents, the spark for my imagination, and the way I learnt about the world. They gave me words to use in conversations with others and spurred me on through my education.
And those skills I learnt when being immersed in stories are the most important for me today: the ability to relate and talk with people, the power of imagination, and an openness to, and awareness of, a world that is different from me. All are qualities that are crucial in my day job. It will come as no surprise that I still list reading as my top leisure interest – I have a pile of books always waiting to be read, from popular thrillers to work related tomes.
That reading, books and stories are important to me I hope goes without saying – but they should be important to us all. The joy in reading should begin in the earliest years of our lives, and our parents and grandparents are the ones who should be our first storytellers and introduce us to our first books. Nursery and school should build on this, widening our vocabulary as the world becomes bigger, preparing us for adult life.
It has been compulsory that children in England learn to read for over 150 years. Yet by the time children leave primary school when they are 11 years old, a quarter of them will not be reading well (Save the Children, 2014).
White boys eligible for free school meals will be performing more significantly poorly, with 30% reading less than once a week. By the time they become adults, 17% of children born in twenty-first century England will have a reading age of just 11 years old.
They will be less equipped to meet the challenges of work and the struggle to find the words to maintain positive, healthy relationships - reinforcing a cycle of poverty that has impacted generations in our local community (Dugdale, G and Clark, C. 2008).
Reading is a big issue. Which is why nationally a range of organisations, including The Book Trust, ICAN, National Literacy Trust, Beanstalk and Springboard for Children came together to form the Read On Get On campaign and produce A Vision for a Literate Nation (National Literacy Trust, 2014).
Locally the Library Service (Great Yarmouth and Gorleston) offers many resources – including being able to borrow those first books for our children, the reading challenges and joining in a group like the Story Café sessions run by our Children’s Centres.
And as a local charity, Great Yarmouth Community Trust is launching its #StoryJamboree17 campaign to promote reading, stories and books across our range of services and activities for young children, families, teenagers, adults. We know what a difference a positive, enjoyable experience of reading and books can provide. And we know it is part of a wider solution to lift people out of poverty.
We will be taking part in World Book Day on 2nd March (it’s the second Thursday in March every year) – part of a celebration of reading taking place in over 100 countries around the world.
Celebrating our favourite story characters, plots and twists, learning new words we can use, and exploring new worlds in our imagination. And at the same time, we will be laying a foundation for a route out of poverty for the children and families we work with. And it all starts with a book …
Executive Director, Great Yarmouth Community Trust
2nd March 2017, World Book Day
Dugdale, G and Clark, C. National Literacy Trust. Literacy Changes Lives. An advocacy resource. September 2008.
Save the Children. Read On. Get On. In England. How reading can help children escape poverty. Published by Save the Children on behalf of the Read On. Get On. Campaign, 2014.
National Literacy Trust. Vision for Literacy 2025. A Vision of a Literate Nation. October 2014.