A GROUP of volunteers who have devoted 125 years between them to reading with children have been recognised for their achievements.

Volunteer readers who have spent five, ten or 15 years reading to children in Oxfordshire schools with charity ARCh, Assisted Reading for Children, were on Thursday presented with long-service awards.

Twelve people working across nine different schools were given awards by the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire Tim Stevenson.

A further two were unable to attend the event.

The event at Kidlington Baptist Church was part of the group’s fifth anniversary celebrations.

It was formed when national organisation Volunteer Reading Help stopped working in the county.

Although ARCh is not part of the Oxford Mail backed Oxfordshire Reading Campaign, the volunteers work in many of the schools where the campaign is taking place, reading with different groups of children.

ARCh development manager Jane Rendle said: “Anything that encourages the importance of reading is a good thing.

“Some of our volunteers have been inspired by the reading campaign and have come forward and volunteered for us.

“We are working in schools where the reading campaign is working and it is something we could follow, so if a child has been through the reading campaign in Year 2, they might want an ARCh volunteer for Year 3.”

Former nurse and health visitor Elaine Steane, 67, started reading with children at New Marston Primary School, Oxford, in 2003 after she had retired, recently transferring to St Nicholas Primary School, Marston.

Mrs Steane, of Summertown, said: “I had been visiting families and I loved and enjoyed being with children.

“I came into this lovely world, being introduced to children’s literature like The Gruffalo.

“It is a real privilege to be able to work in a school and our job is to help with children’s confidence. It is magical.”

Jill Cheeseman, who has volunteered in St Leonard’s Primary, Banbury, since 2007, became involved after seeing an advert in the local newspaper.

Mrs Cheeseman, 67, from Deddington, said: “I used to help in local primaries when my children were small and I have always been enthusiastic to help children with reading because it’s such a vital skill.”

Volunteers commit for at least a year, and read with three children in half hour sessions twice a week.

Mrs Cheeseman said: “It’s great fun and it keeps you very much in touch with the younger generation, and there is always something the children can teach you.”

The organisation is always looking for more volunteers.

The volunteers

  • Five years: Jane Bhattacharya, SS Mary and John, Oxford Anne Ross, Fir Tree, Wallingford and Berinsfield Primary Caroline Walker, Bayards Hill, Barton Debbie Whitford, St Mary's, Bicester Jill Cheeseman, St Leonard's, Banbury Derek Johns, St Leonard's, Banbury
  • 10 Years: Elaine Steane, New Marston, Oxford, and St Nicholas, Marston Margaret Hobson, Sibford Gower Catherine Hare, St John's, Wallingford Lawrence Wyatt, William Morris, Banbury Helen Holmes, St Mary's, Banbury
  • 15 Years: Enid Barker, West Kidlington Anne Collieu, Stanton Harcourt Primary and Standlake Jenny Stockley, Brookside, Bicester

The campaign

The Oxfordshire Reading Campaign was launched in September by Oxfordshire County Council in an attempt to address poor test results in county schools. s The two-year scheme is run by the National Literacy Trust and backed by the Oxford Mail, and includes targeted reading interventions aimed at boosting reading skills for seven year olds, plus a volunteer reading scheme to help foster a love of reading. s Children involved work in small groups with trained teaching assistants on the Project X Code books, designed to improve phonics and comprehension skills, and also read one to one with volunteers. s In all 54 schools across the county are taking part, and roughly 100 volunteers are working in schools, 30 of whom were recruited and trained through an Oxford Mail campaign, and the remainder of whom volunteered through the school community.

To find out more, e-mail info@archoxfordshire.org.uk or call 01869 320380.