Skip to content

We use necessary cookies that allow our site to work. We also set optional cookies that help us improve our website.

For more information about the types of cookies we use, and to manage your preferences, visit our Cookies policy here.

Cookie settings
News story

Meet the Literacy Champion volunteers who are changing lives throughout the West Midlands

08 Jun 2023


We asked Literacy Champions from both Birmingham Stories and Black Country Reads a few questions to get an insight into what it's like to be a Literacy Champion volunteer for the National Literacy Trust.

We asked Iona Mandal from Birmingham Stories who at age 16 is Birmingham's current Young Poet Laureate and winner of the Wicked Young Writers Award. Iona has been volunteering with the charity since October 2022 by writing poetry for a youth-led eco-zine booklet and running workshops at a local school supporting young people to write their own poetry.

We also asked Carrie Pearson - a Black Country Literacy Champion since February 2022 - who is helping support vulnerable new mums by sharing baby bundles that amongst other essentials contain early year books to empower parents to read to their children. She has also been helping at numerous events.

Iona Mandal - Birmingham Stories

Why did you sign-up to be a Literacy Champion?

I signed up to be a literacy champion because of my existing passion for English Literature. I always wanted to dedicate myself to the cause of equipping people with the important life skill of literacy and I thought the work that the National Literacy Trust was doing already was incredibly admirable!

This volunteering role was right for me because of how flexible it is. I never feel pressured to overwork myself, especially as an A-Level student who has many academic commitments. The people I have worked with and guided by have all been friendly and helpful and I always feel comfortable surrounded by those working towards the same cause.

What has been your proudest moment?

One of my most proudest moments with the National Literacy Trust was being nominated in the Supporting Children and Young People Category for the Royal Voluntary Services Coronation Champion Award, 2023. Earlier this year in April, I was also privileged to share stage with author Max Potter at the Exchange, Birmingham, for the launch of his book 'Shy'. As Birmingham Young Poet Laureate, I was very happy to weave some of my poems around his writing and to read it to an august gathering.

Iona Mandal holding ezine (4)

Carrie Pearson - Black Country Reads

What has been your experience with reading growing up in the Black Country?

Reading was a big part of my life when I was growing up. One of my earliest memories was visiting the mobile library in Rowley Regis, and then Lion Farm Library as I reached my teens. I loved all books; everything from ‘Garfield’ comic books by Jim Davies to ‘The Twits’ by Roald Dahl but my absolute favourite was ‘Charlottes Webb’ by EB White. This book taught me that no matter who we are, how small we are, and how long we are in this world for, we can make an impact in someone’s life that will never be forgotten. The friendship that Charlotte and Wilbur have, has stuck with me into my adult life, the values stayed with me and has helped shape me into the person I am today.

Why did you sign-up to be a Literacy Champion?

Simply because I love reading and want to share the experience of losing yourself into the pages of a book with others.

I've founded and currently run a charity called New Beginnings Community based in Smethwick in the Black Country. We work with families who would not normally have easy access to certain experiences and resources including books.

At the core of our groups ethos is inclusivity, togetherness and as the name suggests ‘community’. As well as providing stay and play groups we also offer a baby bank service for vulnerable families. For instance, those in poverty, fleeing domestic abuse, families seeking asylum, homelessness, and victims of trafficking.

Being a Literacy Champion means I get to support these families by providing them with free books to take home, a warm space in which to enjoy them with a hot breakfast and drinks as well as advice and support.

Due to the vast and varied demographic of parents and families we support, we have found that some of our provisions have been the only books that children have owned or had access to.
We are proud to say that to date we have provided over 1300 packs to families in the Black Country.


Why do you feel improving literacy level in Black Country is important? Are there any specific needs you think the National Literacy Trust can fulfil?

Literacy development is an important part of a child’s overall development. Before a child can even learn to read and write they need the ability to be able to talk, listen and be understood. Reading books with a child helps to develop these skills. It’s not just about reading the words in the book but talking about pictures together too. For instance, making the sounds of animals or other objects in the book. It is surprising how many parents in the Black Country don’t read to their child or don’t have access to the appropriate resources.

The Black Country is a very diverse community. It can be quite difficult and expensive to get hold of multilingual books for children. With the help of the National Literacy Trust , I would like to see multilingual books be made more easily accessible in the Black Country area.

What has been your proudest moment?

I think that being able to be the person who gives a child their first ever book has made me feel extremely proud. We don’t usually get to see the families we support, as referrals for our baby bank come through agencies such as health visitors, midwives and children's services. One family came to our play and stay session, the mother told us that she was a recipient of one of our starter packs. She told us that the pack had made such a difference to her life, and she was so grateful for all our help. She told us that the book that we gave her in the pack was her daughters first book and she still reads it to her every night.

Why should other people sign up to be a Literacy Champion?

If you love your community, then you must sign up to be a Literacy Champion. Being part of the National Literacy Trust is a great and simple way to give back. As well as meeting new people and making new friends, I have had the opportunity to make a real difference in our community.

I have met some amazing people through events, book giveaways and conferences. I wanted to say a massive thank you to Aman Dosanjh-Dhanda at Black Country Reads for all her support over the last 12 months.

Find out more about how you could become a Literacy Champion.

Back to top