Jill Pay is a Beanstalk trained reading helper and a former Serjeant at Arms at the House of Commons.  

I was fortunate to have a childhood full of books and the joy of being read to. Learning to read opened that magic door to a world of wonder and imagination. I’ve seen my daughters, and now my grandsons, share that kind of childhood. It was the realisation that there are so many children who don’t have experience of books and struggle to learn to read that inspired me to become a volunteer reading helper.

During the summer of 2011 I was thinking about retiring from my role as Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons when I read about the Evening Standard’s ‘Get London Reading’ campaign and this great charity. It was a serendipity moment and I immediately applied to join. After a background check and two days of training, I began to work with three children at a school in Battersea. I have a one-to-one session with each of them for half an hour twice a week, every week in the school year. We read to each other, we talk, play games, explore our imaginations and have fun. Joke books are very popular!  It’s key to find out what a reluctant reader is passionate about, whether it’s football, dancing, Minecraft, space or animals. Then you can lead them into reading through their interest

Most of the children Beanstalk supports lack confidence and self esteem. Sadly, we often hear children tell us “I’m thick” or “I’m rubbish” or “I can’t do that”.  It is quite magical to see the children grow in confidence and believe in themselves as their skills develop, they discover they can read and the wonder of books.

Beanstalk’s unique gift is to give each child one-to-one undivided attention for at least one hour every week from a reliable, non-judgmental adult.

We give each child regular practice in reading, lots of encouragement and a chance to feel special. We sometimes take groups of children with their reading helpers to special places to read, for example behind the clock face of Big Ben, on HMS Belfast and to the England changing room at Wembley. They each take a favourite book and read to their reading helper in a place that is unusual and not usually accessible.

I think this short poem by the wonderful Julia Donaldson reflects the spirit of Beanstalk:

“I opened a book and in I strode.

Now nobody can find me.

I’ve left my chair, my house, my road, my town and my world behind me.

I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring, I’ve swallowed the magic potion.

I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king and dived in a bottomless ocean.

I opened a book and made some friends.

I shared their tears and laughter and followed their road with its bumps and bends

to the happily ever after.

I finished my book and out I came.

The cloak can no longer hide me.

My chair and my house are just the same, but ...

I have a book inside me.”

If you would like to become a Beanstalk trained reading helper then it’s really easy to get involved, I cannot recommend it enough!