28 February 2018

Simon Clarke MP (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) visited Belmont Primary School in Guisborough to promote the importance of reading and to observe first-hand the difference volunteer reading helpers are making to children in local schools ahead of highly-anticipated World Book Day.

Mr Clarke was invited to see what national literacy charity Beanstalk is doing to help improve literacy across the North East of England through recruiting and training volunteers to support primary school children with reading.

Mr Clarke said: “Boosting literacy is a vital issue of social justice and Beanstalk and its volunteers are making a huge difference in my constituency. Reading isn’t just important for life chances, it’s also a great source of pleasure - there’s nothing better than opening a child’s eyes to the wonders of books and I encourage everyone who can to give some of their time to help.”

During his visit, Mr Clarke met volunteer Judith Owen who is one of two reading helpers at Belmont Primary School. Mrs Owen works with three children, twice a week at the school, providing encouragement and support to promote their enjoyment of reading and develop their skills and confidence.

Judith and fellow reading helper, Geoffrey Allen, each spend 30 minutes working on a one-to-one basis with the children outside of the classroom. The students choose the books they want to read and the sessions are relaxed, informal and fun. 

Like many Beanstalk reading helpers, Judith wanted to get involved in helping children once she had retired. “Beanstalk gave me this brilliant opportunity - a placement near home and some relevant training. I love it and I think the children do too!”

The school has seen a real improvement in reading by children who have struggled previously and the Beanstalk volunteers were given credit in the school’s latest Ofsted report.

Chris Gibson, Head teacher at Belmont Primary School said:

“Our volunteers are terrific, they are flexible, resourceful and have made a huge difference to the children they are supporting both with their confidence and with their reading. The children love the time spent with both Judith and Geoffrey. Basically we cannot praise the scheme and the personnel highly enough!”

 Janet Skeen, Area Manager for Beanstalk North East, said:

“Beanstalk reading helpers have a direct impact on changing the life of a child by spending just three hours a week, giving them the skills, confidence and imagination they need to succeed in life. We are delighted that Simon Clarke has taken a keen interest in our work and wants to support and promote literacy in the North East.”

Beanstalk currently has 125 volunteer reading helpers across the North East of England and has supported over 475 children in the last year. The charity is seeing increasing demand from schools for its services and is actively recruiting new reading helpers across the Tees Valley and East Cleveland.

Visit our volunteering page to find out how you can get involved.