4th June 2019

Having enjoyed a successful career in the commercial world for 30 years as a Chartered Shipbroker and then 23 years as a professional psychotherapist, I retired and moved with my wife from our house in Higham to a bungalow in Coxheath, Kent.

After I retired at the age of 73 I continued with my main hobbies gardening, reading and walking for pleasure in the Kent Countryside. I have always been interested in writing and since my retirement have written and published two books ‘Achieve What in Want in Life’ – (Manage Your Mind for Success) and ‘ The Spirit of Life.’ Shortly I will be publishing my third book ‘The Memoirs of an Ordinary Boy.’ My next book, inspired by my work as a reading helper, will be a children’s book.

Despite having plenty to do in my retirement I still felt something was missing which probably related to my work as a psychotherapist and the enormous job satisfaction I always enjoyed helping people with their mind based difficulties and challenges.

In an issue of The Kent Messenger regional newspaper I read an article about the major nationwide concern regarding the number of children that find some aspects of reading challenging. The article asked for volunteers to take on the roll of a reading helper with Coram Beanstalk working in primary schools helping children to improve their reading skills. Working with children in a one-to-one situation, reading helpers are able to tailor each session to a child’s specific needs and encourage children to discover the magic of stories and books working in a professional, relaxed and fun way.

I informed Coram Beanstalk I was interested in volunteering to become a reading helper. After completing the easy to understand application forms I attended a Coram Beanstalk training session and was impressed by the very professional approach of the training staff and the empathetic friendly way the training was delivered.

I was subsequently offered a position at a local primary school and had a meeting with the school head teacher.  This all went well and I started my first session at the school. The young child at my very first session walked into the room and said ‘Oh! I thought you would be a lady.’ That immediately led to a fun and relaxed beginning.

From that first session I have really enjoyed working with the children. The education of children is so important, their future and that of our country depends on it.  I view it as a privilege albeit in a small way to be part of this education process.

The children who reading helpers work with have one or more challenges with certain aspects of their reading ability and I find it endlessly fascinating how with patience, innovation and adaptability children can be helped in very positive ways to look forward to their sessions and find above all reading can be fun interesting and enjoyable.

Obviously the children have to still tackle their formal reading class lessons and in no way can reading helpers replace the more formal education that their professionally trained teachers provide. But we can help children with those particular aspects of reading they find challenging to deal with.

I always look forward to my twice weekly sessions at the school. The work of a reading helper can be challenging but above all I find the work stimulating and enjoyable. I find with the children we can interact together in a way that helps us both to find a way forward in our joint efforts to overcome their challenges so they can move into higher education reading with confidence, imagination and self-belief in their reading skills.

As an Octogenarian I can really assure you ‘one is never too old to try something new. If you become a reading helper whatever your age you will find it a joy to be involved with children in probably the most positive and helpful way you can be.

Written by Michael Dillon, a reading helper in Maidstone, Kent. #VolunteersWeek.

Find out how you can become a reading helper in your local area.