Busy readers – the plot thickens

THE success story behind a volunteering project to encourage North-East children to read is gathering pace.

The number of adult volunteers involved in the Busy Readers programme, run by Darlington Cares, has doubled since the start of the year.

The initiative places volunteers in schools throughout Darlington to listen to children read, and assist them with their literacy.

The project has grown dramatically since it was launched in late 2013. Within the last year, the number of volunteer listeners has grown from 18 to 56, with another 15 in training.

Programme officer, Chelsea Johnson, said: “We have 56 volunteers, in 13 schools across Darlington, giving more than 97 hours of their time every single week, which is incredible.

“It makes such a massive difference to schools. Teachers are so appreciative of the support, because they’re busier than ever these days.”

The latest chapter in the initiative saw nearly 20 volunteers, and people interested in becoming volunteers, attending a networking event at Darlington Hippodrome. The aim was to meet others involved in Busy Readers, share best practices, and ask questions.

One of the project’s longest-serving volunteers, Kath Wall, has been listening to Year 4 children at Reid Street Primary School for nearly six years.

She said: “Busy Readers is my favourite part of the week. I only got involved because I happened to see an advert in The Northern Echo for it, but I got in touch and it just went from there.

“I had no teaching experience before this, but listening to my grandchildren was good training. Teachers do so many things and only have so much time, so you really feel like you’re helping the pupils and the school.

“It feels absolutely brilliant to see how Busy Readers has grown during the last six years, but there’s still room for more volunteers. I’d encourage anyone who is at all keen to give it a go.

“It’s so worthwhile, and it’s a two-way street – you get as much out of it as the children do, and you learn from them even as they learn from you.”

Seth Pearson, director of Darlington Cares and a former Busy Readers volunteer himself, said: “Being a Busy Reader is a lovely thing to do. It’s just so heartening that this many people want to give so freely of their time to help children get the best possible start in life.

“It’s not just listening to the reading that’s important – we encourage our volunteers to spend a couple of minutes talking to the pupils, just asking them how they are.

“Some kids don’t get a lot of attention at home, and they’re really surprised when an adult takes an interest in who they are as young people.”

There are more than 20 schools in Darlington still in need of Busy Reader volunteers, so anyone interested in helping is asked to contact Chelsea Johnson on 01325 406420, or email chelsea.johnson@darlington.gov.uk.