It's been a busy start to the year, with a reception at No 11 Downing Street to celebrate the wonderful achievements of the young people who volunteered in last year's Summer Reading Challenge in libraries, and of the librarians supporting them.
I was thrilled to announce that 2012 saw a 49% increase in the number of young volunteers involved - 4,382 to be precise!
We were joined by young Reading Activists volunteers from Gateshead, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Warrington and Westminster who met the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd. Three of them - Hannah, Kenya and Tom (shown here) - spoke movingly about their volunteering experiences and passion for libraries. As ever, they stole the show!
The Summer Reading Challenge is targeted at four to 11 year olds who read six books in the summer holidays. There is a growing army of socially minded young people aged 11 to 24 who help inspire children to complete the Challenge. One of the young people at the reception, James from Warrington, had done an astonishing 175 hours of library volunteering over the summer.
If you're little, it's hugely motivating to have a teenager help you love reading. And at a time when competition for first jobs is so fierce, librarians' support for volunteering can give young people a unique chance to develop confidence and life skills.
Here's what Tom said: "When you volunteer for the Summer Reading Challenge you see how enthusiastic the kids are about reading and that really spurs you on to read. I never used to be a confident reader but volunteering made me see how confident how I could be. If you'd asked me four years ago if you thought I'd be at Downing Street now I'd have said 'no'. I've loved every single minute of volunteering and it's improved my confidence miles."
The reception was hosted by Frances Osborne (herself an author) and with the support of the Cabinet Office through their Social Action Fund. With this funding, and on-going support from the John Laing Charitable Foundation, we provide training and resources to help develop youth volunteering in libraries.
Right now things are very tough for so many young people. Reading-based volunteering can be a really powerful way to build their confidence, their skills and a deep love of reading and libraries that can change their lives.
Our Reading Activists programme with libraries helps involve young people from disadvantaged areas. We're looking for support in developing this work further so please get in touch if you're able to help.