I am delighted to support the Evening Standard’s literacy campaign. It was my own passion for reading that led me to become Patron of the National Literacy Trust. Since joining them, I have become only too aware of the enormous impact literacy has on many people’s chances in life.
A love of books was instilled in me from a very early age by my father, himself a fervent bibliophile and brilliant storyteller. Every night he would read us children stories by A.A. Milne, Anna Sewell, Daniel Defoe and many others, where we were transported to the imaginary world of Pooh Bear, Black Beauty and Robinson Crusoe – what better way to stimulate and broaden a child’s mind?
For most of us, reading is something we take for granted, but there are many people in Britain who have not had these advantages in their formative years. Last year 1 in 4 children in London left primary school without reaching the required reading level and 1 in 3 children don’t own a book.
In 21st Century Britain these are shocking statistics. The same children will struggle to catch up at secondary school with potentially catastrophic consequences, often leading to a lifetime of social and economic exclusion. It is not a coincidence that nearly half of prisoners in this country have the reading level of a seven-year-old.
By helping children to develop a love of reading, we can help them to develop the critical skills they will need to reach their full potential. Huge strides are already being made in this area through the efforts of charities like the National Literacy Trust and Volunteer Reading Help, but there is still a mountain to climb.
So I am all the more pleased that the Evening Standard is putting its weight behind this campaign to encourage more volunteer readers into schools across London, and I am delighted to be able to support it by sponsoring ten new reading volunteers as part of the Evening Standard’s appeal. I also hope that many more reading volunteers can be identified and recruited in the weeks and months ahead. Our children deserve no less.