By Amelia Shaw, Beanstalk Area Manager

11th February was a momentous evening, launching Beanstalk in Somerset. I can hardly believe I was really there; it was like a fairy tale. The event was set in an amazing 15th century hall. Candles and a fire were burning, wine and nibbles were plenty, there was even strumming on the piano. The hall was full of wonderful supporters including the mayor, in her official chains of office; the Lord Lieutenant; a local MP; the founder of Beanstalk; and Emma Craigie with her team of friends from the Wells Festival of Literature, without whom none of this would have been possible.

(l-r: Ginny Lunn, Beanstalk CEO; Susan Belgrave MBE, Beanstalk President & Founder; Sue Rye, Wells Literary Festival; Amelia Shaw, Beanstalk Area Manager)

I tried to fathom out how I’ve been privileged enough to have been chosen to lead our work in Somerset. I’m a country girl at heart, having been brought up on fresh air, pressing flowers, picking blackberries and walking dogs. It was a wonderful childhood, but for one thing, for me learning to read wasn’t easy. I couldn’t do it, and hated not being able to.

My patient, calm, Mum became distraught when she had to support me with the Janet and John reading scheme, and times when I had to read were not a pleasure. Despite not being able to read, I still loved hearing stories and bedtime was a delight with its routine of being read to. I had role models of readers and was surrounded by people who believed in me and wouldn’t give up, I had plenty of one-to-one support. Eventually, I learnt to read, but I know how easily my story could have been a very different one.

I went on to teach, both in London and away out in the Fens in Cambridgeshire, where I saw some of the challenges rural poverty brings. After over 15 years in schools, I went to Nepal for 3 years as an education volunteer. On coming back to England, I was horrified by our statistics of underachievement here at home. I applied to what was then Volunteer Reading Help and have been with the charity doing a variety of roles for about 12 years. I’m just as passionate and driven by my work today as I was then. So, I know about teaching and learning, reading, and being a volunteer and the work of Beanstalk.                                  

I understand that I can’t work on Somerset alone, so I’ve asked for help in lots of ways. We hope to build a new, perhaps more sustainable way of working in the South West, giving volunteers more opportunities and working creatively in order to offer the same professional service to the children. Times are exciting, as we all look forward to more children having the support of Beanstalk trained reading helpers and we’re reminded of the words from a child in a Battersea school, who said, “Every child should have a reading helper, but not Jacqui, she’s not available”.

If you live in Somerset and would like to become a Beanstalk trained reading helper, or if you work in a local school, then please get in touch with us – it really can change the life of a child.