As part of our #BeanstalkReadingHero campaign we'll be introducing you to the people behind the reading hero masks to find out why they volunteer with Beanstalk and what it means to them to pass on a love of reading.

My name is Pete and I’m a Beanstalk volunteer. So How Did I become a reading helper? Well, three years ago one afternoon at work I was scrolling through the company intranet (trying to look busy) and came across an article on Beanstalk appealing for volunteers. Having previously considered a career change into teaching, the opportunity to support children as a corporate volunteer was ideal and timely.

As a father I was also motivated by the joy of reading to and with my son when he was young, how learning to read had opened up the world around him as jumbles of characters gradually became words and sentences. Being able to read brought him inclusivity as he started to read and understand signs in shops, on public transport or on the TV, newspaper headlines etc. So I threw my hat in the ring and, after an interview, training course and DBS check there I was, wandering around a Clerkenwell school playground looking for a couple of children I’d never met before. Fortunately, a kindly dinner lady saved this lost looking soul, pointed me in the right direction and before long I was reading with my first child. And it was great.

The two children I supported there were pretty good readers though with varying degrees of motivation. One day when I arrived to collect one of the children she was nowhere to be seen. I asked a dinner lady and she motioned to the side where a little girl was being attended to by a first aider. She’d been hit on the side of her head by a wayward football. She was in tears and clutching an ice pack to her head. I was in no doubt – reading would be cancelled. But the little girl was made of sterner stuff. Through the tears she said she wanted to read. So, clutching an ice pack to her head, she read while I turned the pages. And while the tears subsided the ice pack remained in place throughout. She is a softly spoken child but my, what determination.

For the next couple of years I continued as a corporate volunteer until, on leaving my job, I became what I’m told is called a 'normal reading helper'.

I started at a new school – new for me and also new for Beanstalk - which I found particularly interesting as it allowed me some latitude to shape the relationship with the school. The school is well run and very receptive, and the open dialogue at class teacher level is especially helpful. If there’s one thing a school can provide it is two-way dialogue with and feedback from the class teacher.

During my three years as a Beanstalk volunteer the experience has been extremely rewarding, witnessing children learn and grow, developing confidence and improving their reading skills not only through reading itself but also by chatting, listening and playing games. Games we’ve played have ranged from Noughts and Crosses to Draughts. Playing games, chatting and listening to the children all contribute highly in building rapport and boosting self-confidence.

But it’s not all talk and board games. There have been some challenges. For example, at my previous school it was tough at times persuading one boy, a football mad boy, to give up his football match for half an hour’s reading in the library. And as a keen footballer myself, there were times when I could see his point. I kept that to myself by the way. Anyhow, once again those trusty dinner ladies helped me out on more than one occasion, reminding the boy how fortunate he was to be reading in the library instead of playing football.

Written by Pete Murphy

If you have been inspired to become a #BeanstalkReadingHero in 2018, visit our volunteering page to find out more.