Reading Matters: Charity helps readers open a new chapter

Neil Bennett, chief executive of Reading Matters.
Neil Bennett, chief executive of Reading Matters.
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Most people take being able to read well for granted but in an information age, it’s an essential skill.

Neil Hudson met the charity helping poor readers opening a new chapter in their lives.

Imagnie if yuo pckied up this papre and evreyhtnig lookde like this, the wodrs and lettres all jmulbed up, unfmalrair, mislpet.

Probably, before long, you would give up and go do something else. But for hundreds of children with poor reading skills, that’s exactly what a page of text looks like.

For those who haven’t mastered the skill, for whatever reason, it can be a real disadvantage in life, because it’s not just about being able to get on in the classroom, it’s everything from pizza menus and texting your mates to surfing the internet and reading road signs.

Being able to read is vital.

The charity Reading Matters, which works with children mainly in West Yorkshire, is helping to give some of those disadvantaged youngsters the chance to dramatically improve not only their reading skills but their confidence and lust for life in general.

It trains volunteers to go into schools to work with children on a one-to-one basis over a set period of time but it’s not just the children who benefit.

Christine Elliott, who co-ordinates the reading mentors, said: “We often find that the people who become volunteers get just as much out of it as the children do. There’s a real sense of satisfaction working with children who have poor reading skills, especially when you see them start to improve and quite often it can increase the confidence of the volunteer as well.”

The charity is on the look-out for more volunteers and is keen to stress it can work around individuals, some of whom work full time and can only afford to give up a small amount of time.

Christine went on: “Some people are only able to give up an hour of their time a week but that is enough for us to work with, we give them training and after that they work with children in schools on a one-to-one basis. One of the most important things is it helps children feel good about themselves. There comes a point when you are working with children when they just blossom, you see a change in them and it’s like magic.

“Another thing we have discovered is that absenteeism goes down as reading skills improve.

“The courses run for 10 weeks at a time. We have 53 mentors in Leeds working in 20 schools but we would like to recruit more people.”

Neil Bennett is chief executive of the charity, which was founded just over a decade ago and has since helped hundreds of people improve their reading skills.

He said: “We want young people to fulfil their potential and we would not be here if people were not willing to give up their time. It’s not a one-way street, our volunteers get accredited training qualifications. We are particularly keen to expand our work in Leeds schools. If you are interested in applying, you need to love reading and like working with children and have a little bit of time.”

The reading ability of children can vary for a number of reasons – some develop faster than others, others may end up falling behind and once in secondary school, find it difficult to catch up.

Chris Edwards, former director of Eduction Leeds, which funded the Reading Matters charity for four years, could not say enough about the project.

He said: “It makes an enormous difference to the children who are on the course. Over the course of a 12-week programme, research has shown you get a reading gain of about 18 months. It boosts kids’ self esteem. If a child cannot read, they cannot do anything. Reading opens up so many doors for them and helps them succeed at secondary school and higher education.

“The charity makes a big difference to a group of children who would otherwise not get the opportunity to improve their reading skills on a one-to-one basis.

“In terms of the volunteers, I don’t know why more people aren’t doing it. It works both ways, so the volunteers get something out of it too. I think people do want to give something back.”

Cora McCosh, 30, a senior projects officer at Leeds Metropolitan University, benefited from working with a reading mentor herself as a child after being diagnosed with dyslexia. She works full time but has arranged with her employer a flexible shift so she can work one hour a week as a reading mentor at Allerton Grange School, where she has been working for the last two years.

She said: “When I was at secondary school, I was diagnosed as dyslexic and I had a reading mentor, I found it very helpful and I just wanted to give something back. I was lucky enough to be at a school which recognised it needed the help and it made a massive difference to me doing my GCSEs and going on to university.

“I work with the same two children every week, giving them 30 minutes each.”

She added: “I enjoy doing it, it’s extremely rewarding to see a child go from being someone who struggles with reading and speaking out loud to watch them gaining confidence and becoming someone who can read out loud. At the end of the day, me giving up one hour of my time is nothing.” Contact Reading Matters at info@readingmatters.org.uk or 01274 692219.

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