Let’s Talk About Literacy Charities

Danielle Cameron has just finished her first term on the MPhil programme and is currently relishing some much needed, festive R&R.

Being able to say that you’re a university student means, amongst other things, that you are very lucky. Regardless of which year you’re in or what institution you attend, being at university means you have had access to resources, communities and, ultimately, educations that others do not. While in the thick of seminars, writing and generally trying to keep everything together, it is horribly easy to take these things for granted.

A skill that I’m sure a lot of us – not just students – take for granted is being able to read. Look at you, you’re reading this blog post right now. You took a look at the post description, clicked on the link and, hey presto, you’re reading these words.

Over the last few years, I’ve worked with children and teenagers who definitely do not take the ability to read for granted. I’ve seen the tears, frustration and anger provoked by a page full of text that seems alien and inaccessible. But I have also seen first-hand the difference that one-to-one mentoring, better reading resources and a positive attitude towards literacy can make. Improved reading skills doesn’t just mean higher grades but improved self-esteem and mental health.

That’s why I decided to dedicate my first Cambridge Children’s Literature blog post to raising awareness of some exciting literacy charities. In order to emphasise how you can help locally and further afield, I have included both UK-based charities and international organisations. You can donate in multiple ways to each charity: you can donate your time, your books or your money! Any donation, no matter what size, can and will make an immense difference.

1. Room to Read


Founded in 2000, Room to Read has  helped over 10 million children worldwide. The charity works in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia. Their all-inclusive approach consists of four core programmes:

  1. Reading Room – the design and building of libraries with a super child-friendly environment. They are stocked with local-language books, donated English-language books and games.
  2. School Room – Room to Read works with local communities to build schools so children have accessible and safe learning environments.
  3. Local Language Publishing – the charity finds new content from local writers, publishes high-quality children’s books in local languages and, finally, distributes them.
  4. Girls’ Education – Room to Read strive to make education accessible to all, especially girls who otherwise might not be allowed to attend school. 40,000 girls have enrolled in the Programme and nearly 90% have gone into university education or employment.

You can find out more here.

2. READ International


READ prides itself on being a student-volunteer-led organisation.

The READ Book Project involves university students collecting disused textbooks, stationary and sports equipment from schools, colleges and universities. Volunteers then select the best of these resources before sending them to schools in Tanzania and Uganda. So far, the Read Book Project ha donated over 1,000,000 books to 1,213 Tanzanian secondary schools and 31 libraries.

There is plenty of opportunity to get involved – aside from the READ Book Project, student volunteers give presentations to school pupils promoting the charity and global citizenship. The charity also encourages people to volunteer in marathons and other sponsored events to raise money for their work. Also, there’s a READ book donation box at Cambridge University! You can find it at 7 West Road (Sidgwick Site).

Read more about their work here.

3. National Literacy Trust


The National Literacy Trust supports professionals, including librarians, with the resources and information needed to promote literacy. Through doing so, individualised approaches can be made to help people improve their reading skills. The organisation primarily seeks to inspire reading motivation and enjoyment. They also wish to influence UK government policy and practice to make sure issues surrounding literacy are not overlooked.

To find out more about their work, visit here.

4. Beanstalk


Through the help of volunteers, Beanstalk provides one-to-one reading support with the aims of improving reading ability, inspiring confidence and increasing enjoyment of reading. With the training that volunteers receive, each individual child’s literacy needs are recognised and met. On average, each Beanstalk trained volunteer works with three children and provides consistent, weekly support for an academic year. Out of the schools where Beanstalk has supported children, 99% agreed that the reading volunteers had made a significant impact.

If you’re interested in volunteering your time, there are opportunities relatively close by in Bedford and Greater London.

If you’re wondering how else to help, visit here.

5. Summer Reading Challenge


Last but definitely not least is the Summer Reading Challenge. A collaboration between The Reading Agency and council libraries across the UK, the Challenge seeks to get children excited and interesting about reading during the summer holidays.  Children who sign up to the Challenge are asked to read six library books of their choosing over the six weeks of the holidays. They can choose any books as long as they are library books. In turn, the Challenge helps boost library membership. It relies upon volunteers giving up only 12 hours of their time over July and August – of course you can volunteer for more hours! During your shifts, you’ll get to work in your local library, talk to children about the book they’ve read that week and hand out goodies. This year I volunteered and enjoyed every second! It’s a fun way of getting to hear about how and why children love certain books and dislike others. You can also get a free T-shirt, which is always a bonus!

Take a look here to find out more.


The above list is in no way comprehensive but I hope it has helped alert you to the kinds of important work that literacy charities do. Also, I hope this post has encouraged you to think about how you might want to help out!













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