Community Volunteering On Your Doorstep
|How a local charity helps make reading fun for local children
When local resident Virginia Joseph was looking for ways to work with children in her community volunteering seemed like a great option. “I had to gain informal education experience working with children in order to gain a place on a PGCE,” says Virginia. She first saw an advert for the DLN on her university volunteering site. “I read the description and was sold.”
So what does the Doorstep Library Network do? Founded in 2007, this local community outreach charity runs Doorstep Libraries on five estates in Hammersmith & Fulham. Each Doorstep Library has a team of Home-Reading Volunteers who pay visits once a week to families. Volunteers read stories to the youngest children, help budding readers to practice their reading, and read with and discuss books with older ones (up to 11). They bring a selection of books for each child to borrow for the week.
The progress that children make with their reading, through the encouragement of the Doorstep Library’s volunteers and regular access to a wide variety of books, is often remarkable. One of the fondest memories for Virginia of her time with the charity was when a young child, who had become accustomed to DLN visits and being read to, began to interpret the pictures in a book and tell the adults ‘the story’. “It was truly amazing and amusing, especially when their account closely matched the text.”
But it’s not just about helping children’s reading skills: a big part of what the Doorstep Library Network does is helping children to enjoy stories and reading for pleasure, outside of their schoolwork. Children are encouraged to choose their own books and develop their interests and confidence as their relationship with the DLN develops over months and years. A nine year old boy said (of the DLN) ‘I’m so happy you come to us because there are these book fairs at school but my mum would never buy us any as she thinks we don’t read them. But since you have been giving us books she now buys us some from the book fair too.’
Building these relationships, not only with children, but with families as a whole, is vital to the DLN’s work. Volunteers seek to involve parents in the reading sessions to enable them to experience how they can enjoy reading as a family. For Virginia, this engagement with families was one of the most rewarding parts of her volunteering. “The most memorable/enjoyable experience was when the children from one of the families made us name bracelets. It was very touching; it showed us that we had connected with the family and that our presence was invaluable.” One mum of a 3 year old girl recently said ‘after meeting you (the DLN volunteers), it’s made me want to join the library!’ ‘I read with my children a lot but I don’t usually do what you do – asking questions about the story etc’.
Volunteering can be a great way not only of giving back to your community, but to have fun and meet new people along the way. “DLN allowed me to connect with people who I may not have on a day-to-day basis,” says Virginia. “I learnt a lot from being around volunteers who had more life experience than me, which helped in my role as a reading volunteer.” This vibrant and growing group of volunteers is supported by full-time staff and part-time support workers, each making sure that volunteers feel valued and respected during their time with the DLN. New volunteers are given taster sessions to see what volunteering on a Doorstep Library is really like, as well as a full day’s training on topics such as safeguarding, confidentiality, health and safety, and reading methods.
For many people, volunteering is a great way of developing the skills that will unlock the next chapter in their career. For Virginia, this was certainly the case. “Volunteering has helped me tremendously in my wider life, and in the beginnings of my career. I was talking to parents, interacting with children, I was brought up-to-date with children’s books and I felt closer to my local community.” Virginia is now beginning her teacher training, and the skills she picked up with the Doorstep Library Network will serve her well in her promising career as a teacher.
But for others, volunteering with a charity like the Doorstep Library Network is simply a way of engaging with the community. For all DLN volunteers, giving a couple of hours a week to an activity as fun, rewarding, and truly valuable as working on a Doorstep Library is something they can look on with pride.
If you can give just 3 hours a week—3.45pm to 6.30pm on either Mondays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays—then the Doorstep Library Network would love to hear from you. To learn more about volunteering with the DLN, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information and an enquiry form. The Doorstep Library Network is a registered charity, no. 1137861. Find out more at www.doorsteplibrary.org.uk or call 020 8870 1476
September 19, 2013