Young people today face enormous challenges, challenges that will only be made harder if they are also struggling with their literacy. While some of the responsibility for changing this lies with the government and schools, the community also plays an immensely important role.
This is where our Literacy Champions come in. We have hundreds of Literacy Champions, who are local volunteers working across our Hub areas to promote and help to improve literacy within their local community. These volunteers have the option of working on their own ideas and initiatives or supporting with pre-established activity.
To mark Volunteers’ Week, we sat down with Birmingham Stories Literacy Champion Abi to discuss her experience so far.
Why did you sign-up to be a Literacy Champion and why was this volunteering role right for you?
I initially signed up to be a Literacy Champion to be involved with one specific project, the Shakespeare workshops led by Dr Kate Rumbold. I’m a bit of a Shakespeare nerd, whose ears perk up whenever The Bard is mentioned, so I jumped at the opportunity to get stuck in!
When I attended my training however, (training being a rather loose term for a lovely chat about the opportunities available) I discovered that being a Literacy Champion would allow me to do so much more than the one project that had initially piqued my interest. I could exercise my creativity and help to build new projects, I could assist with admin on existing projects, I could fundraise, I could help to manage social media – you name it, there’s probably a way to incorporate it!
This variety of roles came at just the right time for me. I adore my degree, but my life was starting to become a bit… go to lectures, do the reading, sleep. My role as a Literacy Champion has allowed me to do so many different things, all of which have felt worthwhile and been fun to do.
What has been your favourite experience so far?
I’m an English student, who’s very used to churning out blocks of text and setting it to Times New Roman, point 12. Other aspects of design… less so. However, a couple of months ago, the opportunity came through to use the design software Canva to take a recipe submitted by another wonderful volunteer and make it look beautiful. It was an opportunity very much out of my comfort zone, technologically illiterate as I (rather famously) am, but I took the plunge and put my name forward.
Thus followed a few thrilling hours of wondering why things kept deleting themselves (big delete button that I hadn’t realised I was pressing), where images were hiding (under the great big tab that said ‘images’) and how to change fonts (drop down list that says ‘fonts’). I persevered, I Googled, I studied recipe cards, and I became very hungry for chocolate dirt puddings. And at the end, I was left with something that looked… well, rather like an actual recipe card!
This was my favourite experience so far, because I finished it with a real sense of achievement. I had been brave and it had paid off. It helped that I had something tangible that I could look at and say ‘yes… I did that. It’s real.’ It was an experience I wasn’t expecting from being a Literacy Champion, and one which has given me the confidence to do more things outside my comfort zone.
What skills/experiences/learnings has being a Literacy Champion given you?
I signed up to be a Literacy Champion anticipating that it would give me a few lovely bullet points to add to my CV. ‘Communication’, perhaps. I have indeed exchanged a lot of emails, and liaised with community centre staff members at reception desks – tick. ‘Assisting with creation of projects/resources.’ I have created digital content (I made a rather silly little video for World Book Day. Immense fun.) and done some blogging – tick. ‘Time management.’ I’ve managed to do all of this without sacrificing my degree! Another tick.
What I didn’t expect was how much non-CV-able value I’d get out of being a Literacy Champion. How much life. I – Abi Kinsella, nervous traveller extraordinaire, managed to get myself to a community centre in a location unknown to me, thanks to the support of a lovely NLT staff member. I attended a Shakespeare workshop and heard extraordinary life stories that could have been lifted from the greatest of novels from amazing people. I shy away less from things I haven’t done before, because my experiences of taking on slightly daunting opportunities in a supportive environment have made me realise that once I’ve done something, it’s no longer an unknown!
In short, being a Literacy Champion has improved my CV, but more crucially, has improved my mindset.
Why should other people sign up to be a Literacy Champion?
Your experience of being a Literacy Champion can be whatever you want it to be. You can be like me and sweep up every opportunity that comes your way, like an entomologist in the rainforest with a big net. You can become heavily involved in a single project that is right up your street. You can take on one or two opportunities every once in a while, when your schedule permits.
Whichever of these options is right for you, becoming a Literacy Champion will be thoroughly and utterly worthwhile. You will come away from whatever you get stuck into feeling warm and fulfilled, in the knowledge that you have helped a whole new world become accessible to people who may otherwise have been denied it.
A Literacy Champion is truly a wonderful thing to be.