As part of a monthly spotlight on our volunteers in the North East, we speak to Ellie McCann, who became a Literacy Champion last year. Ellie speaks about what inspired her to sign up, and why she is passionate about improving literacy levels in her local community.
Literacy Champions are supported volunteers who work alongside local teams in the National Literacy Trust to deliver and support activities where low levels of literacy are seriously impacting people’s lives. They live or work in the heart of their communities and understand the unique challenges and opportunities of their area. This makes them trusted local voices and best placed to bring people together to make change.
Why did you sign up to be a Literacy Champion?
I first heard about the National Literacy Trust when I was studying at Newcastle University and the charity hosted the ‘English Challenge’ for all second-year English Literature and Language students. The challenge was to think of fun and creative ways in which we could encourage young people to read and write in the local community. After a lot of brainstorming, refining, and then presenting ideas, my team won, with our idea to draw a new character for a children’s book competition. It was so interesting to hear from the charity about the ongoing work they do to improve literacy levels in the North East, and great to have the opportunity to share our own ideas.
It was only after I graduated, and started working in a local secondary school, that I became a Literacy Champion. In my job, I saw first-hand the effect that Covid had on young people’s literacy levels, and I couldn’t think of a better organisation to work with to help tackle this outside of my work. This time I was able to come up with my own ideas to encourage reading and writing in my local community and see them come to life. Helping young people, as well as parents/carers, to discover a curiosity for literature and improve their confidence in reading and writing has been so rewarding!
What does the role look like for you?
The beauty of being a Literacy Champion is the freedom that the National Literacy Trust gives you; you can volunteer as much or as little as suits your lifestyle, and there are a variety of ways you can contribute. This ranges from organising your own book swaps and community bookshelves, writing blog posts about your experiences, hosting book clubs, and supporting at National Literacy Trust events. It has been incredible to work with the North East’s Literacy Champion Project Officer, Rab Ferguson, who gives all volunteers the support and confidence to organise fun and engaging activities.
Recently, I supported a creative writing workshop with northern author Lisette Auton, which focused on representation and inclusivity in her books. It was amazing to see the young people absorbing Lisette’s message, that everyone has the right to have their voice heard and the power to express their own ideas through storytelling. I have also helped with an ongoing apprenticeship scheme for students from Middlesborough College, who, as young Literacy Champions, are creating their own literary activities in their local area. I have loved hearing their ideas - their fresh perspectives have even inspired me to think of new ways to support my local community.
What has been your favourite experience so far?
With Rab’s support, and resources from the charity, I was able to organise a free book giveaway to the students at St Mary’s Catholic School before the Christmas holidays. We gave away 250 free Penguin books, ranging from classic stories like The Jungle Book, to kindness and mental health aids like The Choose Kind Journal. It was lovely to see the students so excited to take home their own books, and the school was so grateful to have the free resources.
What skills have you gained by being a Literacy Champion?
So many! I have learned to embrace my creativity, have more confidence in my ideas, and pursue the things that I believe in. My communication, planning, and project management skills have all improved too, which always look good on the CV! The beauty of helping with a range of events is that you meet so many interesting people and make lots of connections. Hearing such a variety of stories has widened my perspective and has only increased my passion for helping to engage families with literacy.
Why should other people sign up to become a Literacy Champion?
The experiences you gain are invaluable, and it feels so rewarding to know you’re helping to make a positive difference. You can make the role completely your own, and meet others who have a shared interest in literacy and community work. I’d recommend it to everyone!