By Malou Bengtsson - Wheeler, Beanstalk Area Manager Kent & Medway 

Between 21st and 23rd October 2015, I was lucky enough to attend the EU Read conference in Brussels on behalf of Beanstalk. EU Read is a members' organisation with non-profit interest, which has been going for around 12 years and presently has members from 10 European countries.

It is a campaigning and action group, and among the 3 founding organisations is Book Trust from the UK. It has the aim to promote reading and to co-ordinate programmes to promote reading across Europe, to share practise and strategies to support all members, and to advocate on behalf of its members for professional and financial support.

The EU Read conference took place in the offices of the European Foundation in Philanthropy House in the centre of Brussels. Literacy is very important to the philanthropists who see illiteracy as a massive issue. The current migrant crisis is of particular importance. It is understood that literacy is not only a question of being able to “translate” the language, but also being able to “interpret” the language - the aspect of cultural literacy.

Dr Vladimir GarkovDirector General of the European Commission for Education and Culture and responsible for ELINET - with whom Beanstalk has had relations for a while, explained that the Commissions perspective is that communication skills need to increase and there should be an EU wide benchmark on literacy. Across the EU 1 in 5 citizens is functionally illiterate, and the reading gap between boys and girls is huge, and it is vital that people have access to promotional reading activities

It was very interesting to hear from Patrick Meinhardt, a former German MP, who spoke about how to engage business with literacy. In his opinion it is always the statistics around illiteracy that shock business into action. He feels that it is important to reach out via companies to reach families. The German National Day of Reading has proved a very good vehicle for corporates and SMEs to go out and engage with schools to promote reading.

There were several really interesting presentations during the 3 day conference, but one that stood out for me was from a Swedish company called Tobii Pro. This company has links with another Swedish company called Optilexia, which has developed eyetracking technology to test for dyslexia. These tests take 60 seconds to carry out and are 90% reliable!

I hope that Beanstalk continues its links with EU Read, as members were wonderful and genuine people with a real passion to promote reading and literacy and a commitment to sharing best practise and support.

All images come from EU Read.