Stephen Hoare finds inspiring examples of industry and education working hand-in-hand.
Putting the fun back into reading is the aim of Reading is Fundamental (UK), the homegrown version of an American business links inititative. To help do just that, RIF is giving away books to 13,300 children aged four to 13 through events in schools, libraries and clubs.
Boosted by the National Year of Reading, RIF is gaining cash and support from businesses, local authorities, charities and publishers, who supply books to the organisers at up to half-price. The scheme depends heavily on local partnerships. At Havant, for example, Hampshire LEA has joined local businesses Procter amp; Gamble and Thermofill to fund RIF for three years. The schools to benefit are 13 primaries, two secondaries and one special school that serve the Leigh Park housing estate.
Brenda Johnson, headteacher of Front Lawn Infant School, one of the 13 primaries, says: "The project is a good way of pulling together all the schools on the estate to raise standards of literacy."
So far, RIF has organised storytellers and book events that include a visit from local TV presenter Fred Dinenage and soccer champions Portsmouth FC. Other sponsors such as the Post Office have helped top up the funding, and the Leigh Park cluster of schools is part of the local authority's bid for Single Regeneration Budget funding.
Havant is a model of the type of public and private partnership that RIF hopes to roll out across the country. Director Roy Blatchford says:
"Support at local authority level has been critical. It brings the private sector on board. Companies get involved at a local level because they want to be seen to be putting something back into the community."
And it is easy to sell the idea. As one corporate donor put it: "What I like about Reading is Fundamental is I can understand it. It has a self-evident simplicity."
Havant joins Derby, Newham, Hounslow, Newport, South Wales and Exeter as places where RIF has been able to tap into a local literacy project, find committed corporate sponsors or a receptive LEA.
One of the first schools to become involved, Foxhays First School in Exeter, Devon, has been running RIF for the past three years. Charlie Werner, the school's headteacher, says: "For many children there are no books at home, no habit of reading. For us it's crucial that we involve the parents. We have set up a committee of six parents who have chosen ten books their children enjoy from local book stores, and children get to choose from these."
However, the scheme could be a victim of its own success. At the moment local organisers trying to set up RIF schemes for around 8,000 children are desperately seeking sponsors.
"We are not just here for the National Year of Reading," says Roy Blatchford. "This is a ten-year project at least. It's an opportunity that companies should grasp."