OXFORDSHIRE’S new High Sheriff has pledged to raise £75,000 to help children at an Oxford school to improve their reading.
William Alden, who took on the post two weeks ago, has chosen Pegasus Primary School in Blackbird Leys as his first charitable project.
The role of the High Sheriff is almost entirely ceremonial, charitable and social as well as being voluntary, unfunded and non-political.
While his ceremonial duties include acting as the returning officer for parliamentary elections, Mr Alden, from Iffley, is keen to involve himself in community schemes.
At Pegasus School he is spearheading a campaign to build a new reading room for its 500 pupils, complete with books, comfy chairs and places for volunteers to help.
Mr Alden said: “I am hoping this is a campaign that the people of Oxford, famed for its literacy and academia, can get behind.
“I have spoken to volunteers at the school who love coming in to help the children read.
“But at the moment they have to sit in the corridor, being disrupted as people walk by in a draughty corridor.
“So the idea is to build a building which will provide plenty of space and which can be used by the local community.”
The school already has designs for the space, which will be built on site.
It has also raised more than £15,000 with fundraising events and money from individuals.
Mr Alden added: “I am making it my mission that by the time my term is up next April, we will have raised all the money needed for the school.
“The children at the school are remarkable, they are full of passion and they deserve a space where that potential can be unlocked by the inspirational teachers and volunteers.”
At a launch event on Monday, children and volunteers spoke of their need for the new building.
Headteacher Jill Hudson said: “We are squashed into every inch of this school and have been for years.
“We have got a huge number of volunteers coming in to help the children and it is frustrating to have nowhere to put them. So it is fantastic that the high sheriff has chosen us, I’ve already started furnishing the building in my head.”
Plans already in place over the next year include a Christmas concert with the New College choir.
Mrs Hudson said: “And we have a 24-hour reading marathon planned too.
“The children really want to get involved themselves, it is important they are a part of this project and part of the future of the school too.”
She added: “This isn’t just about improving the reading skills of the children, it is about developing that passion and interest in books.”
Nine-year-old pupils Leya Parsons and Shakayah Aamah made a presentation at the launch of the reading room project, saying how much they enjoyed books.
They said the new reading room would help them and future pupils enjoy books more.