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Dad's army sought for literacy battle

Blunkett wants older people to read with and mentor children as part of a national drive to encourage unpaid charity and community work. Nic Barnard reports

SENIOR citizens will be encouraged to read with children to improve their literacy. The move is part of a wider pound;130 million national drive to boost voluntary work.

Education Secretary David Blunkett believes older people are an untapped resource and wants to see more of them volunteering to help the young. The Government will put pound;7.7m into mentoring projects to help achieve this.

The drive also includes pound;70m over three years for a new "Children's Fund Local Network", to be piloted in 17 areas in England and extended across the whole of England by 200304.

The network funds projects for disadvantaged young people. It aims to help children in low-income families or living in isolated parts of the country. Projects to benefit range from a mobile toy library in Ashford, Kent, to an evening club and cafe for youngsters in Cornwall.

The wider pound;130m programme of cross-departmental measures is designed to encourage and expand the work of Britain's 400,000 voluntary organisations and millions o volunteers. "We want communities to help themselves, but it's vital that Government lends a helping hand," Mr Blunkett said.

"One of the best ways of helping children and the community is to make use of the expertise of older people.

"I'd like to see more older volunteers passing on their experience, perhaps by being a mentor for a young family or by helping children with literacy and numeracy."

Other schemes to be funded by the local network include an art project in Millwall where young people will work with a local artist to paint a mural at their community centre. In Liverpool, the funds will aid a one-to-one support service for child victims of domestic violence.

The local network is part of the pound;450m children's fund announced in last year's comprehensive spending review.

The 17 pilot areas are: Tees Valley; Tyne and Wear; Merseyside and Halton; Greater Manchester; Lancashire; South Yorkshire; West Yorkshire; Humberside; Nottinghamshire; Leicestershire; Birmingham and Solihull; the Black Country; Norfolk; Kent; East Sussex; Cornwall and the Scilly Isles; and London.

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