By Malou Bengtsson-Wheeler, Beanstalk Area Manager 

I cannot believe we are at the end of another academic year. In the rush to place our final trained reading helpers so they are ready for a September school start, I find myself reflecting on the successes and challenges of this year, and what we have to look forward to next year.

In September 2015 we knew that we had a steep hill, if not a mountain, to climb. We had finished the previous academic year growing by 23% and for 2015-16 we had set ourselves a target of 33%! We wanted to be ambitious, as there are so many children across Kent and Medway that would benefit from our support.  As we all gathered back after our respective annual leave, we considered how to achieve our ambitions.  We rolled up our sleeves, packed our book boxes and started recruiting, training and placing volunteers.

There were of course added complications along the way, there always are, not least a changing educational climate. In the midst of this we continued to recruit the most fantastic people who were willing to give up their time to support children in their local schools.

We managed a range of exciting projects, placing an additional 90 trained reading helpers in Medway under the Get Medway Learning project, being one of them. We continued working very closely with Virtual School Kent, supporting 126 children in care during the year; something I am particularly proud of as children in care often have so many additional difficulties in their lives. We also managed to expand our range in Tunbridge Wells, and I was very pleased to read this article the other day:

We also managed to expand our Reading Champions project, which we ran as a pilot from April to July 2015. Since its beginnings in this academic year, we have supported over 300 families and their pre-school children, to appreciate the importance and the joy of reading together. We now have regular sessions in three children’s centres and ad hoc sessions in one more including ad hoc sessions at other venues where families attend. Four parents/guardians from the sessions have come forward to volunteer as reading champions themselves and we have used books in a variety of different languages. We also picked up a cheque for £500 at a recent “You Decide” event, where the local community voted on the projects they wanted local councillor, Gary Cooke, to award grant money to.

We also shared a range of other successes – sponsoring, judging and taking part at the KM Literacy Awards, receiving the KM Charity Mark and being awarded a KM Partnership Award – and attended fun events – KM Colour Run and KM Big Charity Quiz. We have a really good partnership with the KM News Group and the KM Charity Team and are very grateful for all the incredibly support they give us.

So it is that I find myself at the end of this academic year knowing that we will not quite achieve the 33% growth we aimed for, but still an incredible 27% supporting so many children along the way. As a team of staff and volunteers (many of whom were new to the organisation at the beginning of the year) we have grown stronger than ever and picked up a lot of new skills and ideas along the way. We are looking forward to the next academic year and the many successes, and no doubt challenges, it will bring. Go Beanstalk!