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 (NLT)
WH Smith PLC and WHSmith Group Charitable Trust have been working in partnership with the NLT for nine years now on projects to promote reading for pleasure.
Over the last three years, we have been supporting the NLT’s Young Readers Programme for Families. The WHSmith funding has enabled the NLT to pilot a new approach, working closely with parents to help them develop practical tools to support their child’s literacy development. Since 2010, the partnership with WHSmith has funded projects in 20 locations across the UK, with projects taking place in areas of disadvantage where it has been identified that children were more likely to struggle with their reading. Over 700 families have taken part during the course of the project, involving mums and dads, grandparents, children and siblings.
Each project is made up of five workshops for parents with primary school age children, with sessions covering how to read with your children, helping your child select books, how to get the most out of library services and how to choose books to buy for the home. At the end of each session, children join their parents so they can build confidence reading together. The final session includes a visit to the local WHSmith store where the Children’s Books supervisor gives the families a tour around the store and WHSmith vouchers so that the children and parents can choose new books together. The school also receives WHSmith vouchers to buy books for the classroom.
Over the three years of the programme, we are measuring performance against three key performance indicators to ensure that the project delivers a positive and sustainable impact on literacy levels and attitudes to reading. Key findings include:
• 92 per cent of parents said they spent more time supporting their child’s reading in the home;
• 94 per cent of parents said they saw their child reading more;
• 74 per cent of families joined their local library as a result of taking part in the programme. 61 per cent made a return visit within two weeks.
One project coordinator from Middlesbrough observed, “The best thing... is the impact it has on the whole family. Brothers and sisters reading together, parents reading with their children, bedtime stories being renewed, families who had never been to the library before becoming members and making regular visits and enjoying reading.”
“P.S. I bumped into a grandmother who had participated in the programme last year, and she said her grandson has never stopped reading since the course! Isn’t this fantastic, as before the course he very rarely read, and was miles behind. He is now reading The Hobbit!”
The excellent results of the pilot project in terms of changing attitudes to reading have enabled the NLT to secure further funding to continue the project in some areas of the UK. We are delighted that WHSmith’s funding has helped to establish a new way of supporting literacy.
We will continue our partnership with the NLT in the years ahead and are currently in the final stages of planning a new project aimed at changing the literacy culture in schools.
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
WHSmith has a strong presence in the hospital sector, operating stores in 119 hospitals across the UK. The staff within our Hospital stores often become a core part of hospital life and are well known to the hospital staff. Many of our store managers provide ad hoc support to the Hospital Trusts, for example donating discontinued stock or prizes to hospital fundraising activities; however we were keen to find other ways for WHSmith to support the Hospital Trusts. We discovered a few years ago that books are often overlooked in hospital budgets, but can play an important role in patients’ care, and for three years running we have made donations of over 300 bestselling books to 10 hospitals where WHSmith has a store.
After visiting many of the hospitals that received the donations and discussing our programme with the nursing staff, doctors and play specialists, we learned that there was a real need for more arts and crafts supplies to help occupy children who may be in hospitals for long periods. Responding to this feedback, this year we decided to trial donating art and craft materials in place of books. As before, we worked in partnership with the WHSmith Trust to make donations to ten hospitals where we have a store. As part of the programme, each hospital receives a donation of hundreds of products, from paint-by-numbers boards to entertain patients confined to their beds, to craft kits for activity sessions in the hospital play rooms. This year’s donations took place in hospitals from Glasgow to Southampton, and were led by the store managers to help them to build lasting relationships with the hospital staff.
Lorna Clarke, Head of Corporate Partnerships at the Bristol Children’s Hospital charity Above & Beyond said: “Play is so important in providing fun, stimulation and distraction for children at what can be a difficult time. We are so grateful to WHSmith for this generous donation, this will make a real difference to so many children from across the South West who are cared for at the hospital.”
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 fourth year, the Giveaway is a partnership with the WHSmith Trust whereby High Street stores receive vouchers to give to a local school. This year, over 110 of our stores shared more than £20,000 in WHSmith vouchers with local schools. The feedback from schools was overwhelmingly positive, with store managers helping teachers to take advantage of the latest offers and promotions to get the most for their school in terms of new books and stationery supplies. Our store managers also used the giveaway as an opportunity to make a positive difference in the wider community.
One example is WHSmith’s Princes Risborough store where the store team invited local schoolchildren to write book reviews, as well as offering to participate in ‘career days’ and encouraging work experience placements with some of the older pupils. Store manager Tamara McLaughlin visited Princes Risborough Secondary School to award them with a certificate and the £200 vouchers.
In Exeter, the WHSmith store manager commented, “our Schools Giveaway event was a complete success and more than 40 children all left the store very happy. They picked up two books each and the teachers all chose several more for their library. The head teacher was very pleased with the morning and it looks as though we will do lots more activities together in the future.”