Celebrities help to turn new leaf on child illiteracy

Cause UK is supporting a radical Social Enterprise which is tackling child poverty and falling literacy rates by giving away free books to children in Yorkshire’s most deprived regions.

Cause UK asked actor Brian Blessed and bestselling author Joanne Harris to become Patrons of the Doncaster-based Re-Read and has arranged for the BBC to film at the project. The enterprise is based in the former coal mining community; 22% of Doncaster children currently live below the bread-line.

Re-Read was founded by Jim McLaughlin in 2012. After spending 20 years developing community recycling projects across the UK, Jim was inspired after passing a book dealer with a 10 tonne skip full of discarded books destined for incineration.

Re-Read recycles books which otherwise would have been burned or gone to landfill. The social enterprise sells over 60,000 recycled books online and has customers all over the world, profits from trade allows Re-Read to put much needed books for free into the hands of low income families, donating 53,000 children’s books to date.

Jim said: “When I started researching Re-Read, it was clear low income households weren’t buying books and children in low income families have low literacy rates. The cost of a basket of food essentials has gone up by 28% since 2008 but the average cost of wages has only gone up by 9%. In addition, benefits for low earning and workless households have been cut. We have all witnessed the rise of food banks in our communities. Now, there is a crisis of poor literacy rates for our children. When food takes precedence, often books and learning fall off the priority list.”

In support of Re-Read, Brian Blessed said: “As a Mexborough born lad, I’m delighted to be Patron of Re-Read and the remarkable work they do putting free books into children’s hands in some of the most disadvantaged communities. One of the biggest crimes of deprivation is illiteracy.”

He added: “Adventure is at the heart of human endeavour, and I’m a great believer that books can offer us a gateway into a glorious world of adventures and encourage us to reach for the stars. I have written my own books, and as an actor brought alive the work of the world’s greatest writers, and believe there is no greater gift than inspired words. It was unheard of a coal-miner’s son should go to drama school, but I got the scholarship. I am a living example that with the right encouragement and access to inspired minds, children can achieve anything.”

The Institute of Fiscal Studies forecasts an increase in poverty, with 1 in 3 children in the UK living on poverty by 2020. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates child poverty costs the UK £29bn a year.*

Re-Read gives books away at children’s centres, community galas and school fetes. One Grandparent who picked up J R Tolkein’s The Hobbit said, “I can’t afford to buy books, even from a charity shop, I remember reading this book to my son. Now, I’m going to read it to my grandson.”

Brian added: “If Re-Read can reach out to just one child that is something to celebrate, the fact they’ve given tens of thousands of books to children is a joy. That’s why I’m delighted to be ‘booming for books’!”

Joanne Harris, the Barnsley-born bestselling author of Chocolat, said: I’m delighted to see the Re-Read scheme doing such good work to bring books to people who need them. Books are a marvellous way of linking people, sharing ideas and building communities. I’m sure it will be a big success.”