Volunteers needed to read with children

Doorstep Library, the community-focused charity committed to sharing the “magic of reading” with children and their families, is looking for dedicated new volunteers as they reintroduce their door-to-door reading service.

The charity, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, operates its library service across Hammersmith & Fulham, Lambeth, Camden and Westminster. Uniquely home-based, their volunteers work with children and their families in under-resourced areas to bring the joy of reading, and all its attendant benefits, quite literally to their doorstep.

Their goal: “help each child develop the self-confidence and essential skills they need to access all the opportunities that will come their way in life.”

The charity stopped visiting children in their homes during lockdown. Now they are looking for volunteers who can offer a few hours a week as they restart the programme. Armed with a rucksack of books and two stools, volunteers visit five families one night a week during term time, to sit and read with them.

“Today was magic!” one volunteer told me. “A little boy read to me for the first time.  He sounded out the words and read one page while I read the next. I don’t know who was more excited…Him or me!”

Henrietta Yoxall, Doorstep Library’s head of marketing and communications describes the process as “child-led” – catering for each child’s specific reading needs and interests, all with the aim of building their confidence in and love of reading. The children are always excited for their sessions, with one ten-year-old Doorstep Library child telling the charity:

“Whatever books you bring there is always something I love. Thank you so much for your visits.”

By having their volunteers provide these reading sessions to children in under-resourced areas, Doorstep Library is performing a vital service, that has a tangible positive effect. A 2012 Department for Education report concluded that reading for pleasure had a greater educational outcome than factors such as socio-economic status.

The results speak for themselves. 94% of the children Doorstep Library worked with in 2020 reported an increased confidence in reading, and 70% of parents said that their child was more ready for school.

Image above: a child reading a book

Building relationships with families

Volunteers can find themselves helping the whole family, not just the children. Often, says Henrietta, it is about building a shared family experience, where they find themselves offering support in a number of ways, to parents as well as children.

Henrietta tells me volunteers can build up “a lovely relationship with their families.” Many of the families they work with do not have English as their first language (52% in 2020). By modelling reading for parents who are not confident readers themselves they encourage a continued engagement with reading outside the weekly sessions.

“In order to help a child discover the world of reading, they need inspiring stories, interaction and encouragement from a supportive caregiver, and a positive home learning environment.”

Their success is reflected by the engagement of so many parents, with 98% of them telling Doorstep Library that they look forward to the weekly sessions.

More than that, it is about strengthening a family’s place within their community and making a genuine difference in peoples’ lives, say the charity. Volunteers also often take on the role of offering guided support, telling families about local services which  can provide them with further help and opportunities for reading.

One parent told them: “it is so heart-warming to have such support available.”

Education gap widened by the pandemic

Now more than ever, Doorstep Library needs volunteers for their reading sessions. Disparity in education has been made worse by the pandemic and remote learning. According to a 2020 report by the National Foundation for Educational Research, teachers in the most deprived areas are more than three times more likely to report their students being four months or more behind the curriculum learning of their counterparts at schools in the most affluent areas.

A lack of resources at home is key to that expansion of the attainment gap. While the country was on lockdown, though Doorstep Library did what they could, offering online sessions and giving more than a thousand brand new books directly to their children over the lockdown periods, but they say nothing can replace the value of reading with a child in person.

To be a volunteer and help young readers gain confidence, you must be over 18 and able to make a minimum commitment of nine months. More information about volunteering with Doorstep Library can be found here.

To find out more about the specific volunteering roles, and when and where they take place – visit: How to Volunteer. They ask that all potential volunteers sign up for a one-hour information session online. Training can be completed online.


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