We Love Local: Beanstalk Charity

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 by Douglas And Gordon

Tell us a little bit about Beanstalk.

Beanstalk (formerly known as Volunteer Reading Help) is a national literacy charity which recruits, vets, trains and supports volunteers who go into primary schools to work one-to-one with three children for 30 minutes each, twice a week. The sessions involve talking, reading and playing games.

When and how did Beanstalk first begin?

The founder of Volunteer Reading Help was a Justice of the Peace called Susan Belgrave, who in the course of her work realised that there was a huge problem with literacy amongst people being brought before the court and she resolved to do something about it. She and a group of friends began, in 1973, working one on one with children in their local primary school and the charity grew from there.

What do you think makes Beanstalk special?

The volunteers who join us! Each and every one of them has something different to offer the children they work with. They bring their own experiences of life - careers, travel and history – and encourage the children to begin to love books and reading as a way of learning new things or escaping to different lands. The children grow in confidence and they often blossom, not only into better readers, but into children who are more willing and able to fully engage with the entire curriculum.

A volunteer in Battersea wrote us an email at the end of her first year in which she remarked "As a personal observation, one of my children has changed so much over this last 18 months. A self-conscious quiet child who seemed overwhelmed by the learning process has blossomed into a confident chatty person willing to decipher any word and keen to grab a dictionary or book to illustrate a point. This morning I was aware for the first time of the adult she would become. This individual now has enough tools to get the very best from her education and hopefully make herself and her family proud. I am often overwhelmed by the energy these children give to learning. It's a joy to be a part of."


What impact has the charity had on the community in the last few years?

Following a successful partnership with the Evening Standard as part of their Get London Reading campaign, a school in Battersea was able to have 30 Beanstalk reading helpers come into their school twice a week. Nearly all the children had their own twice weekly support and in conjunction with the excellent teaching at the school and a more general focus on reading, the results for their year six leavers over the last two years have been incredible. The Head there, Jared Brading, referred to his Beanstalk readers as his “secret weapon”. Having seen the difference that our reading helpers can make, many more schools across Wandsworth, Merton and Sutton are desperate to have Beanstalk in their schools, which is why we are so keen to recruit new volunteers who we can train and place.

What do you love most about working in that kind of environment?

I love meeting the new volunteers, hearing about their backgrounds and their passion for books. It’s always very exciting to see how enthusiastic they are to start and even better to sit in on their sessions where the children obviously adore having that one on one attention, all to themselves, in which they can explore new stories or adventures.

Why do you think this kind of work is so important for the youth of today?

In busy schools and busy homes, it’s not always the case that children get as much individual attention as they might like. An hour a week spent with an adult to just have fun in a relaxed environment, with no pressure, to be introduced to new books, games, or words is a wonderful thing to see. It’s funny how many children who profess to ‘hate reading’ love Boggle, wordsearches and puzzle books but don’t realise that they are helping them to learn.

Tell us about some ways that people can help out.

If you love books, have good levels of English and would like to pass on the gift of reading to a new generation then we’d love to hear from you. You must be able to devote 2 x 1.5 hours per week, so two mornings or two afternoons and be able to commit for a year. We will give you two days of training and you will be given a Volunteer Support Worker who will see you through the placement process and be on hand should you ever need advice or reassurance. Each volunteer is given a box of resources which is kept in their allocated school for them to use. We offer regular follow up training sessions should you be interested and a book exchange scheme where volunteers gather for coffee, chat and to look at new resources. Anyone interested in applying can do so on our website at http://www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk/reading-helpers/want-to-help-a-child-to-read  or contact us at  inner.london@beanstalkcharity.org.uk or on 0207 730 8259for more information.

How can companies wanting to help get involved?

We offer a company volunteering scheme whereby employees go into a local primary school once a week in their lunch hour to work with one or two children. Any companies interested should contact Beccy Fellows at beccy.fellows@beanstalkcharity.org.uk. More information is on our website at http://www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk/reading-helpers/company-volunteers

At Douglas & Gordon, we love local. Do you have any favourite organisations in the UK?

Beanstalk reading helpers love the games produced by a company called BrainBox and books published by Barrington Stokes and Rising Stars, amongst many other resources that they use.

Anything else you would like to add?

We are always looking for Beanstalk supporters, so even if you are unable to devote the time to become a reading helper there may be other ways in which you could help, so please do get in touch. At the moment we are investigating the possibility of applying for a Beanstalk garden at RHS Hampton Court but are looking for possible sponsors and garden designers who might be able to help. Anyone who feels they might be able to should contact Kate Loynes on kate.loynes@beanstalkcharity.org.uk