At the National Literacy Trust, we are dedicated to raising literacy levels across the UK. Having strong literacy skills can support children to do well in school, access more job opportunities as they grow up, support their physical and mental wellbeing, and it can even increase life expectancy.
However, we couldn’t support the huge range of communities in Blackpool as well as we do without the help of our volunteer Literacy Champions. Whether they are stocking community bookshelves in schools, running storytelling sessions at one of Blackpool's fantastic libraries, or handing out activity packs in local parks, Literacy Champions are at the heart of everything we do, and we hugely appreciate all of their time and efforts in helping us.
It’s so heart-warming to see our volunteers grow in confidence and experience, and witness how their work provides opportunity and inspiration for them, as well as the people they support. Get Blackpool Reading’s volunteer Literacy Champions are making a real and lasting difference in their local communities, whether it’s in their school, place of worship, or even over the garden fence. That’s why we want to celebrate our fantastic team of indispensable volunteers. Blackpool is so lucky to have so many who find the time to give something back, and who have made the choice to help others succeed.Stephanie Wood, Project Manager at Get Blackpool Reading
To say a big thank you to our amazing network of Volunteers, we hosted a Literacy Champion Celebration party at Victoria Community Church on Saturday 3 June, which was attended by over 20 of our Literacy Champions, their friends and families. It was fantastic to see everybody get together and share their stories, motivations, and ideas for how we can all work together to continue raising literacy levels in Blackpool.
Meet the Literacy Champions
Three of our amazing Literacy Champions, Ellie, Stephanie and Karly, have shared their experiences of reading, and how it has inspired them to become a Literacy Champion.
“A dyslexia diagnosis reminded me why I loved reading”
Ellie Scott, 16, has grown up in South Shore, and believed that everybody struggled with reading. She covered up her insecurities with jokes, ignored books as much as she could, and did her best to avoid reading aloud in lessons.
“I was a big reader when I was younger, but I lost my love for it in high school, because it suddenly seemed really difficult, and there wasn’t a lot of support available. In my first months at school, I was part of a poetry and reading club, but the teacher who was running the club left, and nobody took it over. That was quite a common theme with extracurricular clubs, there just weren’t enough staff or resources to run them.”
Ellie’s high school experience is all too common, and as a result, she distanced herself from books and reading, so it wasn’t until Ellie was asked to read a part in Macbeth during a GCSE English lesson teachers realised she was having difficulties.
“Once the school knew I was struggling, I got lots of help. At first I was embarrassed, and some people made fun of me, but after I left high school, the college did some further testing and helped me to access things like yellow overlays, extra time in exams – things I didn’t realise I needed.”
Ellie added, “It’s a totally different experience in college. There's a popular reading group, and being interested in books doesn’t have the social stigma it had in high school. I feel that it’s quite an anti-school culture in Blackpool, nobody wants to be there longer than they have to, and it’s rare to see people with big ambitions to get out of Blackpool. I have a lot of friends who would rather go out than stay in and read, they just don’t see the point.”
Following her dyslexia diagnosis, Ellie has re-ignited her love for reading, and wants to help others who might struggle in similar ways. Since becoming a Literacy Champion for the National Literacy Trust’s local campaign, Get Blackpool Reading, she’s started volunteering at Boundary Primary School, reading with children once a week.
“I’m studying to become a Teaching Assistant. I want to be the person that can inspire and help children if they need it. I love helping out at Boundary, it’s so rewarding. I haven’t been doing it very long but I am already seeing the impact it’s having on the children, and I love that they’re genuinely excited to read with me.”
Ellie plans to continue volunteering as a Literacy Champion, and is currently hosting a book drive at Blackpool Sixth Form. The books will be going to various community bookshelves across town, so people can access free books whenever they like. They’ll also be going to reading corners, local charities, and wherever they are needed most.
“It takes a village” – Blackpool’s enterprising childminder who is using her network to raise local literacy levels
Karly Tuck, 37, has lived and worked in Blackpool her whole life. After leaving school, she was inspired to build a career in the childcare industry, after helping to care for her nephew once her sister returned to work.
“I originally didn’t know what to do once I finished school, but I’ve always enjoyed working with children. So after helping with my nephew for two years, I went on to study childcare at both college and university, which led to me launching my very own childcare setting, Auntie’s Playhouse Childminders, 14 years ago, when I was just 23.”
Karly is passionate about her work, and says that getting to meet all of the wonderful families who have passed through her doors over the years is something she is incredibly proud of.
“Being a working parent is a huge challenge, lots of people struggle to find the time to sit down and read a book with their children. It really does take a village to raise a child, because there’s so much else that needs doing once you finish work. Sometimes it’s necessary to put them in front of the TV whilst you make dinner or hand them your phone whilst you’re running errands, so at the setting we don’t have any screens, and I take every opportunity to get outside, and help the children discover the world around them, through reading books, drawing and writing, talking with them about what we are doing, and listening to them sharing important parts of their day.”
Karly has noticed a trend over the past few years, children arriving to her setting with speech or developmental delays, and she wants to help parents feel confident in helping their children develop key literacy skills. She now volunteers with the National Literacy Trust in Blackpool, distributing books to the families she works with, and sharing helpful resources with parents.
“I feel it is so important to improve literacy in Blackpool, especially in young children, as this will give them the best start in life. Providing everyday opportunities to develop the skills from a young age will help them to gain communication skills to make friends, which then supports them in education and in the future as adults, throughout work and family life. Being a Literacy Champion with the National Literacy Trust has helped me support parents, giving them tools and information, to do exactly this in the home environment – fitting it around busy lives. Hearing back from parents about how excited their children are to read is truly my favourite part of being a Literacy Champion.”
Research from the National Literacy Trust shows that 1 in 10 children from disadvantaged backgrounds do not own a book at home, so Karly is using her contacts in the childcare industry to pioneer a community “Book Swap Box”, which will be passed around different childminders in the area, to reach more families and help spark a love of reading.
“Getting the children to take a book home to share with their parents has been a huge success. Some of our families have sent me photos of the children reading our book swap station stories in the car, at bed time, on the beach, and at families houses which has all been great to see. Parents also often message me with some of the things the children have said during story time, and commented on how much of a great idea it is. One parent even told me that her child never had an interest in books before, but now he gets all his books out before bed most days!”
Karly also encourages parents to visit their local library with their children, to help them see the wide range of books available, and to discover new subjects and authors that might interest them.
“There are fantastic libraries in Blackpool, with loads of events and opportunities to encourage families to join. Some of the most popular books with children at the moment, in my experience, seem to be: The Gruffalo, Three Little Pigs, Daisy Eat Your Peas, and Kitchen Disco! However, lots of the children often make up their own stories during our rhyme, story and talk time, which is a fantastic way for them to use their imagination.”
“Reading has always been there for me – let’s make that an option for everyone”
After her brain surgery, Blackpool resident Stephanie Cottle turned to books to help keep her mind occupied during her recovery.
“I have a rare brain condition, Chiari Malformation, which means the back of my brain slips down onto my spine. Before I had the operation, which relieved my symptoms, I would have migraines and dizzy spells. I’ve always been a big reader, but my headaches meant I sometimes struggled to focus on the pages, so I would listen to audiobooks. I found non-fiction easiest to listen to, as I didn’t need to try and follow any storyline, so now I know lots of things about nature that I might not have learnt otherwise!”
Since recovering, Stephanie has continued to pursue a career in teaching and the arts. She is now a Learning and Engagement Assistant at Blackpool’s much-anticipated museum project, Showtown.
“Reading has always been my favourite way to relax, I spent a lot of time in the library when I was young. Being surrounded by books triggers something calming in me. My favourite books are usually a little creepy or grotesque in theme, I recently hosted a Women of Horror evening with Reclaim, a grassroots movement to help make the streets of Blackpool safer for women, where we focused on female horror writes, and gave away copies of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.”
Stephanie found out about the National Literacy Trust’s local campaign, Get Blackpool Reading, through her work, meeting Project Officer Sam at a Young People’s steering group for the museum. Sam introduced her to Literacy Champions, a network of volunteers all working together to help children and young people across Blackpool discover a love and enjoyment of reading.
“I started chatting to Sam about the sorts of things I’d enjoy doing, and the things I do for work which would benefit some support from the National Literacy Trust. I run a book group called The Social Lit so Sam came to chat to our members. I also invited her along to Showtots, Showtown’s offer for children aged 0-4, where we focus on different themes with a Blackpool twist. Studies have said that the reading age in Blackpool is quite low, and we’d love to introduce our youngest members of the community to reading as soon as possible!”
Stephanie added, “Books are so expensive, especially to those on a limited budget. I feel so proud that my work as a Literacy Champion helps me to give a wide range of books to younger students who might not otherwise be able to own a book. The volunteering fits in so well with what I already do, so it’s easy for me to be an advocate for literacy in the spaces I already exist. I’m looking forward to realising all of the different ways we can encourage reading for enjoyment in Blackpool. I hope more people get involved along the way!’