After spending his childhood indifferent to books Pat Mulhern’s pleasure in reading was awakened in his teens. Now retired and a book-lover he wants to help children see what he feels he missed out on. He was introduced to Beanstalk, a literacy charity, through Volunteer Centre Lewisham and now volunteers as a Reading Helper at a school where his daughter was once a pupil.
When you retire you have time for yourself. A couple of months after I retired I became quite ill and was ill for about 10 months. I even found it difficult to walk. When I came out of that period, I felt I wanted to give something back. I felt I had been rejuvenated.
I have become an expert at things like Top Trumps and we play games of trivia and word games, like hangman. The children engage well with the games and reading. The problem that I have us how we do this in schools, how do we bridge the gap between home and school so the love of reading continues away from here.
When I was at school, I learned how to read but I had no love of reading and only came to that when I was possibly 17 or 18 and discovered books for the first time and began reading for pleasure. I think that experience informs what I am doing. It’s what reading allows people to do, the different worlds that they can visit, the uses of enchantment, the stories and even reading for information. Without reading one is disenfranchised in so many ways. I think reading is vitally important and is part of the reason I am doing it with these children.
As a volunteer we have training. Each volunteer has at least a couple of days training. I give 90 minutes twice a week so it’s very manageable and there is a lot of support from Beanstalk and the school. There are people like myself that are retired and those who work and have children.
The volunteer centre provided two things; a menu of opportunities, I was amazed at quite how many opportunities there are out there and it helped with the research but it also provided the introduction and in this case, the link to beanstalk. I think had I been left to my own devises I might still be left pottering around doing my research.
I have noticed the children are much more confident, much more fluent. It has been gratifying to see them develop their reading. Their speaking confidence has grown and they are more inclined to chat about things. I would love to see the children finishing on a high note, that is having a love of reading which will continue into their lives. Its that old thing of if you give a man a fish and if you give a child a book you could be giving a whole family of experience of literature and reading.
Find out more about Beanstalk at www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk
Words and photo by Helen Clegg