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CSV Action Desk
The little bear helping children to read
By Denis Price
'We’re a spark, that’s what we are’, said Pooh Bear reading volunteer Joyce. ‘Through reading we try to excite a child’s curiosity and open the door to the wonderful world of books’.
I’d been introduced to Joyce and half a dozen of her fellow volunteers at the headquarters of the Pooh Bear Reading Assistance Society on Hull’s Prospect Street by Project Coordinator Jo Roper and Project Development Worker Helen West. After outlining the work and aims of the Society and plying me with coffee and cakes they allowed me to ‘sit in’ on their regular volunteers’ meeting which gave me the opportunity to chat to this varied group and learn more of the Society’s origins, aims and the motivation of its volunteers.
The Pooh Bear Reading Assistance Society, a registered charity and very much a local initiative, was founded in 1976 by a student at Hull University with the aim ‘of working in schools, family homes and reading clubs, where volunteers aim to build confidence and develop reading skills in children through sharing and enjoying books together’. That’s the official description of the Society’s aims but what of the volunteers who translate it into action, who are they and why do they do it?
Resisting yet another proffered slice of Battenburg from volunteer Joyce, a Pooh Bear veteran of several years, I asked why she’d volunteered? Joyce came from a background of payroll administration and had first begun to work with children in a local school, helping to teach Maths and English. Joining Pooh Bear seemed like a natural progression to her although she still continued with her Maths and English volunteering. Together with colleague Kath, they both agreed it was the joy of imparting and sharing the love of books and reading with children which was the greatest reward.
Joyce told me of the seven year old boy from a home completely without books to the extent he wasn’t even allowed to take one home to read, and how overjoyed he was to progress to a higher level with his in-school reading and what pleasure she gained from his success.
Volunteer Kath was an old hand at working in the school environment, but not in the area of teaching. Her speciality was school catering and it wasn’t until she picked up a leaflet publicising the activities of the Pooh Bear Reading Assistance Society that she volunteered her services and hasn’t looked back since.
Now Pooh Bear volunteers are welcomed from all walks of life but I hadn’t really expected to meet one proudly displaying the golden dolphin badge of Her Majesty’s Submarines. Its smartly blazered wearer was Mike, now retired from the sea and ready to pass on his experience as a volunteer to the children in his local school who would probably be as impressed as I was.
I have to confess that my expectation was that many of the volunteers would have been teachers or from an education linked background. I was almost completely wrong in this with the exception being Christine, a former primary school teacher, who as she said, ‘still enjoys teaching and the contact with the children. I felt this was an excellent recommendation for the Society coming as it did from someone with her background.
Volunteer Julie, a Hull University accountant, was allowed time out by her employer, to volunteer at a primary school near her work. Her interest in helping children in school stemmed from her experience with her own children which led her to the Pooh Bear Reading Assistance Society.
Project Coordinator Jo explained that the sources of volunteers were quite varied with some being university students where the volunteering experience would reflect well on their CV’s and young parents being drawn in from ’community bases’.
The public spirited attitude of many local companies in encouraging their employees to volunteer and allowing time off to do so also increased the total number of volunteers which had now reached two hundred and fifty.
Listening to the volunteers discussing the business of the day, and resisting even more cake, it wasn’t difficult to understand how the aims and work of the group bound them together. It bore out Jo’s comment that the retention rate wasn’t a difficulty.
With all registered charities, funding is a constant worry despite the Society winning the prestigious ‘Queen’s Jubilee Award for Voluntary Service by Groups in the Community’ in 2004 and two ‘National Childrens’ Lottery Funded Awards’ in 2005. New sources of funding are constantly being looked for by the Society, especially from small companies.
In spite of this, the warmth and enthusiasm of the group was evident with Jo and Helen explaining that it wasn’t all work and no play, with a programme of social events throughout the year culminating in a Christmas Volunteers Party as a ‘Thank You’ to all.
It hadn’t been possible to speak to everyone at the meeting where the numbers around the table increased as the morning progressed, but I was left with the distinct impression that this mix of people from a variety of backgrounds and life’s experiences were making a positive difference to childrens’ lives and of course, in creating that vital spark, enriching their own.
If you’d like to know more about volunteering for ‘Pooh Bear Reading Assistance’ even for an hour or two a week, let us know and we’ll pass your details on.
last updated: 31/03/2008 at 13:43