VOLUNTEERS who have helped children in Oxfordshire learn to read for the past decade have been praised for their dedication.

Sixteen long-serving volunteers across the county, who have given up to 10 years to ARCh – Assisted Reading for Children – have been given certificates to mark their achievements.

Jane Rendle, ARCh’s development manager, said: “We like to recognise our volunteers because they are such wonderful people – they give up so much of their time.

“With this year’s awards we worked out that altogether they had given more than 100 years to the organisation.”

Every volunteer gives up three hours every week, when they help to teach three pupils to read.

Ms Rendle added: “These people are reliable and constant, which is great for the children.

“They become a special friend and children often say it’s their favourite time of the week.”

Janet Turner, from Kidlington, spends time every week helping Oxfordshire’s children learn to read.

She said: “It’s mostly them reading to us. It’s about building up their confidence at reading.”

Over the past two years, almost 1,200 pupils have participated in the Get Oxfordshire Reading Campaign, which was started after seven-year-olds in Oxford primary schools were the worst performers in Key Stage 1 tests. But since the campaign began results have improved.

The campaign, backed by the Oxford Mail, is run by the National Literacy Trust and funded by Oxfordshire County Council, which initially provided £600,000.

Miss Turner supported the campaign, and said: “Reading is the key to everything, to knowledge, to communication skills, to a better society.

“If you can read you can learn more at school, you can use the internet better, you can pass your driving test. It’s essential.”

Another long-serving volunteer is Val Webster, who has helped to teach dozens of children to read in her time with ARCh.

She said: “It’s obviously the children that are the highlight – the feedback you get from them is just wonderful.

“You stay with the same children for a year so you can build up a relationship.”

Mrs Webster added: “Sometimes they need the support because their parents are too busy to read to them at home.”

But she said new technology could be the biggest barrier to encouraging children to read, adding: “My own grandchildren are more interested in their iPads than having me read to them.

“And when you ask children if they’ve read a book, they often say ‘no, but I’ve seen it on DVD’.”

Profile - Janet Turner

JANET Turner, from Kidlington, does not have children but has volunteered for ARCh for 10 years.

Oxford Mail:

Janet Turner

The 65-year-old said: “I’m a librarian, so when I saw the call for volunteers 10 years ago I signed up.

“I love it when you see a child suddenly able to read independently and enjoy books.

Profile - Val Webster

FORMER civil servant Val Webster has given  10 years of her time to ARCh.

Oxford Mail:

Val Webster

The Chesterton resident, who used to read to her four grandchildren when they were young, said: “I got involved back when it was called Volunteer Reading Help, and I’ve just kept going.

“The last 10 years have gone very quickly.”

  • For more information on ARCh or to become a volunteer, visit archoxfordshire.org.uk