As the UK’s leading bookseller and stationer, literacy remains the primary focus of our community programmes. Research findings consistently conclude that one of the most effective ways of helping children to reach their potential is to engage them in reading for pleasure enjoyment. Children who read for pleasure enjoyment make more progress in maths, vocabulary and spelling between the ages of ten and 16 than those who rarely read and young people who read regularly are significantly more likely to attain a professional or managerial position than those who do not read. Promoting the love of reading is therefore the overarching objective behind our literacy programmes.
Working with the National Literacy Trust to encourage Young Readers
WH Smith PLC and WHSmith Trust have supported the National Literacy Trust’s Young Readers Programme since 2005. Projects run as part of the partnership have reached thousands of children across the UK, through summer play-schemes, family reading programmes and most recently, a project promoting peer reading in schools. Between 2005 and 2015, support from WHSmith has provided funding that has allowed more than 20,000 children to choose around 42,000 free books to keep.
We are currently working on a three-year project which should see over 20 schools and around 7,500 children aged six to nine taking part in the National Literacy Trust’s Young Readers Programme, which gives children the opportunity to discover the pleasure of reading and choose their own books to keep. The project also includes an additional aspect by trialling a new programme model that encourages children from several year groups to take part in peer reading promotion activities, including recommending books to friends and the local community, and sharing reading time together. The children will earn badges and certificates as ‘peer reading champions’.
Each participating school is partnered with a local WHSmith store and the project includes opportunities for children to visit their local WHSmith, enabling children who may have had fewer experiences of book-related environments to learn about bookshops and the wider world of work. The children visiting the store take part in fun activities like a book-themed treasure hunt, quizzes and ‘behind the scenes’ tours. In addition to the store visits, each school reviewed their favourite books and designed a display unit to go in the local WHSmith store. Seeing these reviews on display in the shop was a real highlight for the children, many of whom brought friends and family in to see them, and they were also popular with our other customers.
We are now at the end of the second year of the three-year project. Children have had the opportunity to choose over 10,000 new books and WHSmith stores have hosted over 100 school visits. We have also funded the creation of 22 peer reading libraries in the participating schools to support the project.
We are delighted to see that the project is already having a measurable impact on children’s attitudes to reading. Key achievements include:
• 73 per cent of all participating children reading more frequently as a result of peer reading scheme.
• 91 per cent of teachers observing better overall reading attainment against expected reading levels for participating children.
• 91 per cent of WHSmith stores reporting positive impact on staff development as a result of taking part.
One project coordinator from Redcar commented, “The funding so children can have new books of their choice has just been phenomenal and the visits to WHSmith have, for us, really made the project. For children to be able to go into a store and choose new books from the shelf is a treat that many of our children have never had before.”
Another teacher, this time from a school in Widnes, said, “For schools serving deprived communities such as ourselves, it is a wonderful chance to turn the kids onto reading in a way that would not be possible without the finance and expertise provided.”
CELEBRATING WORLD BOOK DAY
World Book Day was designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and is marked in over 100 countries around the globe. It is the biggest annual celebration of books and reading in the UK and is sponsored by National Book Tokens, with a group of publishers, booksellers and interested parties all working together to promote the enjoyment of reading. WHSmith continues to take a leading role in the overall organisation of the UK’s World Book Day initiative.
Every year, our High Street stores mark World Book Day with special events like competitions, fancy dress, author signing sessions and workshops. Stores also invite local schools into store so that they can take part in the special events and use their £1 World Book Day vouchers.
We also work with other partners to celebrate World Book Day. This year, we supported Manchester Airport Group, one of our key Travel landlords, with their projects to encourage reading in schools local to Manchester airport. Staff from the airport and WHSmith visited the schools to lead a storytelling session and talk about the importance of reading. WHSmith worked with publishers to ensure that the schools all had a good supply of the £1 World Book Day vouchers to spend their free vouchers on.
SCHOOLS GIVEAWAY: SUPPORTING LOCAL SCHOOLS ACROSS THE UK
The WHSmith Trust Schools Giveaway is now in its sixth year and continues to be a great way for our High Street store teams to support local schools and encourage reading. The Giveaway is a partnership with the WHSmith Trust whereby High Street stores nominate themselves to receive a share of £27,000 in WHSmith vouchers available to give to local schools. This year, over 160 of our stores received vouchers to give to their chosen schools. The vouchers give an important boost to the school books budgets enabling them to improve their library facilities.
This year, we also introduced a new element as part of the Giveaway. Each partner school was asked to write book reviews for display on a dedicated display in their local WHSmith. Both teachers and children jumped at the chance to do reviews, with the schools seeing it as a great exercise in reading and writing for the children, and teachers and children alike were really excited to see their book reviews on display in-store. The school displays also provided a great focal point in-store with other customers showing a lot of interest in the display, and even using the children’s book reviews to help them choose a book. Our store teams love having the opportunity to develop strong links with local schools and we look forward to building on this next year.
SUPPORTING THE HOSPITALS WHERE WE OPERATE
As WHSmith presence in the hospital sector grows, we have identified an opportunity to help hospital trust’s enhance patient care through donations of books and arts and craft materials. Over the last four years, we have made donations to around 50 hospitals in the UK, donating thousands of books, craft sets, pens and paper, puzzles and games.
A recent donation was to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth. The hospital staff were really appreciative and genuinely overwhelmed by the amount and variety of stock we gave them, especially as it covered a wide range of ages. They were delighted that a lot of the items could be used at the bedside as most of the patients spend a lot of time in bed. Anita Dykes, Matron for Paediatrics, said: “We are thrilled that WHSmith chose Derriford Hospital to make this wonderful donation. Being in hospital can be boring at times and this donation will help greatly to keep our young people occupied and aid their recovery. It is a fantastic initiative and one which will be used and enjoyed by many of our patients and their families.”
In addition to our hospital stores in the UK, WHSmith also has operations in hospitals in Australia under the FreshPlus brand. WHSmith’s Australian business provides funding for the local community volunteers, known as ‘the Pink Ladies’ who help support patients during their time in hospital.
WORKING WITH OUR STAFF AND CUSTOMERS TO RAISE MONEY FOR CHARITY
We know that our staff and our customers are passionate about supporting charitable causes. This year, employee and customer fundraising raised over £118,000 for a range of charity partners.
The WHSmith Trust continues to be one of the main beneficiaries, with the fundraising supporting the Trust’s work to promote literacy and then support the charities in the local communities WHSmith operates in. Our customers provide fantastic support for the Trust by dropping their spare change into the collection tins in our High Street and Travel stores. Our staff also provide support for the Trust through sporting challenges, like the London Marathon and Great North Run, and support for the WHSmith Trust shop in our Swindon head office. In June 2015, after months of training and fundraising, three WHSmith teams took on the Ben Nevis Dream Challenge for the WHSmith Trust. Each team climbed Ben Nevis, cycled 25 miles and then canoed 3km. After almost 12 hours and despite two foot of snow and a mini blizzard, the teams completed the challenge. The overall comment from the exhausted but exhilarated team members was that the challenge was incredible, with great camaraderie between the three WHSmith teams, amazing scenery and many, many insect bites! The three teams raised around £10,000 to support the WHSmith Trust in its work to promote literacy.