St Helens, like any town, has its affluent areas, but they are few. The authority is in the top 20 in the UK for deprivation. Unemployment and teenage pregnancy rates are all high. So when St Helens set up a Reading Activists group in the library there was an opportunity to reach out to young people whose life prospects are very low.
"Initially we struggled," says Kathryn Boothroyd, Community Development Manager. "Reactions varied between 'What on earth is that all about?' to 'Libraries are boring'. But we persevered, recruiting slowly until we had a group of about twelve."
Kathryn and her team worked incredibly hard to get young people involved in the project. It wasn't easy; they were dealing with individuals who struggled to communicate with adults, said they weren't interested in reading or libraries and even displayed anti-social behaviour.
"Most of these young people have lots to fight against - it is as if the odds have been stacked against them from the start. But Reading Activists can, and has, made a difference."
When Jaime first started visiting the library she was displaying anti-social behaviour, including shouting, swearing and even throwing things around. Then she assaulted a member of the library team and they had no alternative but to take action. She was banned from the library for a month. The staff wrote to her parents and informed the police.
But they didn't forget about Jaime. When they were making plans for the Reading Activists project, she came up in conversation.
"One of the library team suggested we ask Jaime to get involved in order for her to get to know library staff. We hoped it would reduce some of the anti-social behaviour issues we had seen in the past."
Becoming a Reading Activist
As the staff got to know Jaime, they realised she had bags of potential. She was very intelligent, and as she became more involved with Reading Activists, her confidence grew. As she got to know the library staff, she began to see how hard they were working to make a difference to young people. Mutual respect began to grow.
Jamie soon became involved in organising events and was voted onto the St Helens UK Youth Parliament. The staff at St Helens were thrilled when she said that Reading Activists had given her the confidence to apply for the position.
As well as organising some fantastic events, Jaime visited Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament as the UKYP rep. She never would have had experiences like these without Reading Activists.
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Interested in building your CV through volunteering or like the idea of meeting new friends whilst helping out at your local library? Find out more about Reading Activists and what you can do for yourself and for your local community.