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Championing Literacy

As the UK’s leading bookseller and stationer, literacy remains the primary focus of our community programmes. One person in six in the UK still struggles with their reading, with 20 per cent of children leaving primary school reading below the expected level. Research findings consistently conclude that children who read for pleasure have better life chances, and promoting the love of reading is therefore the overarching objective behind our literacy programmes.

Working in partnership with the National Literacy Trust


WH Smith PLC and WHSmith Group Charitable Trust have now been working in partnership with National Literacy Trust since 2005 on projects to promote reading for pleasure. Last year, we confirmed another three-year partnership. The national partnership should see over 20 schools and around 7,500 children aged 6 to 9 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 new project is also allowing the Young Readers Programme to pilot an exciting 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.’

In the first year of the project, 21 schools across the UK took part, all in deprived areas where a high proportion of the children receive free school meals. Almost 2,500 children took part in the project. More than 800 free new books were sent out to children in Year 2 and children in Years 3 and 4 were able to choose from more than 2,500 new books to keep as part of dozens of fun school-based events.

Each participating school is partnered with a local WHSmith store and the project includes opportunities for children to visit their local WHSmith, enabling children likely to have had fewer experiences of book-related environments to learn about bookshops and the wider world of work. Many of the participating WHSmith stores have come up with creative ideas to ensure that the children really enjoy their visit. There were storytelling sessions, treasure hunt games where the children had to find different books in the shop and learn about how a bookshop is organised, and, most popular of all, ‘behind the scenes’ tours where the children got to learn about the world of work, visiting the stockrooms and practising their maths in the cash office. More than 50 class visits were hosted by local WHSmith store managers, with children choosing books to the value of more than £11,000. All of the participating stores said that they valued the opportunity to be involved in the project and 75 per cent said it had a positive impact on staff development.

In addition to the store visits, each school wrote reviews of 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 also popular with our other customers.

At the end of the first year of the project, all of the participating schools report children reading more with each other, and at home, as a result of their involvement with the project. One school found that the number of children reading at home more than doubled after children chose their first book, and reported an unprecedented 100 per cent improvement in reading levels in one participating class. For full details of the project KPIs and the performance achieved, click here

Supporting 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.

World Book Day is always a big event in our High Street stores with many holding themed events for children from local schools. Events included face painting and storytelling and appearances by children’s authors. Many 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.


Donations to hospitals


Over the past three years we have worked with the WHSmith Trust to donate thousands of books and craft kits to over 30 hospitals across the UK. The books and craft kits are being used by hospitals trusts to supplement existing patient resources, or to create new libraries, for both children and adults. These items are often overlooked in hospital budgets, but can play an important role in the recovery and care of patients.

Birmingham Children’s Hospital was the latest hospital to receive a donation of over 500 books from the local WHSmith. The donation included a huge selection of well loved children’s titles such as The Gruffalo, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Hunger Games, along with many interactive books. This means that there will be something for all ages to enjoy for years to come.

The staff and patients at the hospital were very appreciative of the donation and the exciting range of books, as like many hospitals across the UK they rely heavily on donations and fundraising to be able to offer their patients such a selection of books. Michelle McLoughlin, Chief Nurse at Birmingham Children’s Hospital said: “We are delighted that WHSmith has chosen Birmingham Children’s Hospital to make this donation. It is a fantastic initiative and we know the books will be used and enjoyed by many of our children and young people and their families, as well as members of staff from our play team.”

Further details of the project objectives and KPIs are available here


Schools Giveaway


WHSmith’s High Street stores are at the heart of communities across the UK. Our store teams are keen to play an active part in those communities. One way they can do this is through the WHSmith Schools Giveaway. Now in its fifth year, the Giveaway is a partnership with the WHSmith Trust whereby High Street stores nominate themselves to receive a share of the £20,000 in WHSmith vouchers available to give to local schools. This year, over 130 of our stores received vouchers to give to their chosen schools. Feedback from WHSmith staff and school teachers involved in the Schools Giveaway has been very positive, also helping WHSmith stores to build stronger relationships with local schools and the community.

One example is WHSmith’s Princes Nottingham store, where the store team invited local schoolchildren to visit the store and collect their vouchers. Store manager Denise Condon commented: “Our Schools Giveaway this year was a great success. The school was so grateful to receive the vouchers and to visit the store. The school is situated in a deprived area of Nottingham, so they were really excited to receive the vouchers and to invest in new books. The school even based a reading project around the books they bought with the donation.” The WHSmith Hanley store manager also commented on the success of this year’s Schools Giveaway and the difference it made to their local school, “The school children and teachers were extremely grateful for the vouchers. As well as new books the school also chose to buy eReaders to support children that have learning difficulties or disabilities.”

WHSmith Uckfield presented vouchers and raffle prizes to Bonners Primary school. The head teacher said, “Bonners children and staff are extremely grateful for this wonderful opportunity from WHSmith. Not only did WHSmith donate vouchers but also a selection of books, a raffle prize for our summer fayre and a Kobo! We are always encouraging reading at Bonners and this will make a lovely addition to our library and extends the opportunities for the children, thank you WHSmith.”

Further details of the project objectives and KPIs are available here


Promoting a love of reading internationally

WHSmith now has 138 international stores, including several stores in Qatar, and we are keen to promote literacy and a love of reading in these locations as well as at home. This year we had the opportunity to partner with Maktaba, a local literature group promoting the reading of Arabic and English to children, who took over the books corner space in our flagship store in Doha to hold a reading event.

The area was covered with carpet and pillows to create a warm and inviting space for children and three reading sessions took place during the two-hour event. Over 100 children attended the sessions which were highly publicised through social media and we received encouraging feedback. We will continue to look for opportunities to promote literacy in our other international locations.