News and views Ginny Lunn, our CEO, reflects on how becoming a reading helper can help combat loneliness The summer is upon us and I wanted to wish you all a warm, sunny holiday when it comes. I am already dreaming of this view – I’ll be there in just a few days! I also want to reflect a little on something that is talked a lot about at the moment and I believe is especially poignant in holiday season. Recently the Department of Culture, Media and Sport announced new funding to support isolated people and those suffering from loneliness. It made me think about my own experience and the work of Beanstalk. Almost three years ago my partner died - one day I lived in a sociable, shared home the next I was alone. I had never lived alone and still today it feels so very strange to arrive home to an empty house. It is something I consistently hear from people recently, and not so recently, bereaved. I’m not sure you ever get used to it. I am lucky I have a fantastic job - a job that gives me purpose, networks of people and a great deal of meaning. On top of this I also became a Beanstalk reading helper. I can’t give twice a week but the Beanstalk team found me a buddy so we each go into school once a week sharing the role of a reading helper. The children enjoy it as much as we do. From the moment I walked into my local school I felt more connected to my community - previously I hadn’t done any volunteering locally. The children are joyous and we laugh as we share stories and read. My buddy and I now meet and we discuss our children but we’ve also discovered a shared love of tapas and our conversation is about many things. At Beanstalk we need so many more volunteers to join us and I want to get the message out to anyone feeling alone, maybe finding it difficult to connect or perhaps having lost confidence in getting out, to take that step and get in touch. I hear stories weekly of how much volunteers benefit from what we do and what a delight it is to be connected again; having the opportunity to share skills, experiences and laughter to see children progress, and importantly, find new meaning and a great sense of purpose and some times lifelong friends in other volunteers. One male volunteer recently said, “I had retired and was lost, and then I saw an article about Beanstalk. It completely changed my life. Now I have the opportunity to fulfil my lifelong dream of supporting children in a school setting – I wanted to be a teacher – and I am so very grateful to Beanstalk for investing in my training and supporting me throughout.” I thought I would finish with a poem from our South East team: Once upon a time there was a boy who could not read.There was also a man recently bereaved.They were both sad and felt life was bleak.Isolation was the theme of a typical week.The man needed a purpose having lost his wife.The boy wanted to make reading part of his life.The man picked up the paper and read about Beanstalk."By jove" he thought, I can help a child to talk,and read and thrive and tickI am proof an old dog can teach some very useful tricks.The man applied to Beanstalk to help children read.He was trained and supported and met others like him, keen to see children succeed.With the help of the man, the boy was given time.Time to talk and read and laugh and rhyme.Beanstalk enabled the man to give the gift of reading and imagination.Opening up the world of words across the nation.