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Getting to the Heart of the Literacy Challenge

By Jonathan Douglas
Director of the National Literacy Trust

02 Mar 2017

I recently had the pleasure of talking with the British Land team about our partnership at one of their all-staff meetings. What really struck me was their commitment to local communities and understanding that literacy is key for business sustainability.

British Land has been the Young Readers Programme’s largest supporter for several years, with an ongoing commitment to 2019.

In the coming year, we’ll work with more than 7,000 children from disadvantaged backgrounds from almost 100 schools, supported by volunteers from 28 British Land centres. 

This all shows how partnerships between businesses and schools, supported by a charity, really can make a world of difference.

Literacy in the UK is one of the biggest challenges we face. Nationally, one adult in six has literacy levels below those expected of an 11-year-old. 33% of children left primary school last year reading below the expected level and one in six doesn’t own a book. The literacy challenge is also very local, with pockets of incredibly low literacy next to areas of high literacy. 

Our partnership with British Land takes us to the heart of the issue. Together, we’re supporting schools where literacy is lowest and poverty is highest, in communities close to British Land’s retail centres. Children take part in a series of celebrations of reading, where they choose and keep three books of their own.

This culminates in a visit to the British Land centre, taking reading out of the classroom and boosting links between literacy and fun. Here, the children visit book stores, listen to amazing storytellers and take part in reading-themed activities in shops and cafés – all providing unique opportunities for teachers to connect with children and parents on literacy.

British Land understands that unless you get children enjoying reading and owning books, they’ll have problems later in life. The best teachers don’t just teach reading, they get children loving books. Together, we’re adding value to that emotional engagement, helping children get excited about reading, putting books into the hands of children who don’t own them and targeting those with the greatest need.

Our partnership also takes us to the heart of communities, through British Land’s connections with local people, customers, retailers and schools. Retail is linked to aspirations for a lot of young people, so there can be immense excitement about going into WHSmith and other stores, taking part in activities and choosing a book to keep. 

Here’s the British Land programme in numbers:

  • 19,053 children from 224 schools have participated since 2012, choosing 57,159 books to keep, with 288 teachers trained to promote reading for enjoyment.
  • 100% of teachers surveyed in 2016 said reading enjoyment of reluctant readers has increased and 89.5% saw positive changes in pupils’ reading attainment.
  • 25 retail centres have been involved, along with over 200 volunteers from the centre teams and retail partners.

In the words of those involved:

  • Teacher, Plymouth: “For some children this is the first time they’ve ever owned a book and is a real turning point… The project is invaluable.”
  • Parent, Kingston: “My child’s reading is getting better and she’s enjoying it too. You guys are amazing.”
  • Pupil, Hull: “Thank you for the opportunity to choose three books of our own. We loved reading our books a lot! We hope many children are given this opportunity.”
 

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