AUTHOR Roz Oates dreams of writing the perfect story for children.

Now she is combining her research for future books with helping some of the county’s young, struggling readers.

Miss Oates, 33 from North Oxford, recently won the Oxford Editor’s First Chapter Prize for her book Zero, which is aimed at teenagers.

But she says her most rewarding success to date has been becoming a volunteer for the reading charity ARCh.

ARCh (Assisted Reading for Children) is based in Bicester, and its 200 volunteers help 600 children in 90 primary schools for three hours a week.

Miss Oates said: “I started reading with three little boys at Cuttleslowe Primary school just before half term and it has been so revealing and inspiring. One of the little boys has a sight problem, another has confidence issues and the third really dislikes fiction, but loves factual books. And I have relished the challenge of finding books that they will love and want to read.

“I’ve been really surprised by how touching it can be to see children who are struggling with reading, begin to make progress. And to see their faces light up when they get the grasp of a paragraph.”

ARCh has a proven track record at improving children’s confidence and success with reading, but with 20 schools on its waiting list for help, the charity desperately needs others.

ARCh founder Jane Rendle said: “ARCh would not exist without its volunteers and we are so lucky to have so many people willing to give their time to share their love of reading.

“But we would love even more volunteers – we have a list of about 20 schools waiting for more volunteers and we know there are many more out there which would benefit from our help.”

ARCh volunteers are trained and then assigned to a primary school.

Mrs Rendle said: “Last year we found 98 per cent of children improved their confidence and attitude to reading. And 97 per cent displayed improved confidence and self-esteem.”

  • For more details on becoming an ARCh volunteer call 01869 320380 or visit
  • One of ARCh’s newest recruits, Alexis Thompson,48, lives near Burford, and runs her own cookery school, Dancing Trousers.

But when she isn’t stirring up a tasty dish, she’s stirring the imaginations of children at St Joseph’s School in Carterton.

She said: “I don’t have children, but when the opportunity came up to help them with their reading I thought it was a fabulous way to give something back.

“I’ve only been a volunteer since last September but I’m already hooked.

“One little boy’s greatest passion was David Beckham and I found a series of David Beckham Football Academy Books – that little boy just couldn’t wait to read what was happening to his hero next!”

  • PAM Andrews, from Sandford-on-Thames, has provided one-to-one reading help to pupils at Orchard Meadow Primary School, in Blackbird Leys, Oxford, for more than 23 years and in 2009 was named Oxfordshire Volunteer of the Year.

The 73-year-old grandmother said: “I remember the first time I read with a child. I had had all the training you get from ARCh but I was still so nervous about how it would go and if the child would like me.

“I needn’t have worried; the little ones are so anxious to come and ‘practise’ their reading with me and as, over the months they improve, I’ll say: ‘You are reading really well.’ And they will often look at me in such surprise and delight and say: ‘Am I?’ and a little light glows in them.”

She added: “Sometimes I think at 73 I’m past my sell-by date and should give up, but I know how much I would miss it.”