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Join us in backing city’s vital primary school ‘reading buddies’ scheme

12/01/2021

Bristol-based mutual insurer National Friendly has seen a lot of change in its 150 year history. Originally it provided sickness benefits to working men, but also, uniquely among friendly societies at the time, it welcomed working women and children too.

This pioneering stance – when poverty, poor education, poor working conditions, inequality and poor health were huge social issues of the day – was long before any State provision. 

Today National Friendly is as enthusiastic about getting involved in projects which help Bristol’s community. The organisation has stayed close to its roots, something embraced with passion by the current management.

As a result, it has a unique insight and view into the pressures facing local people, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has ripped through education, the disadvantaged, the vulnerable and the charities which exist to try and help these groups.

National Friendly has been a long-term partner of Ablaze, a charity which exists to tackle inequality of opportunity for young people in the West of England.

In particular, the two work closely together through Ablaze’s Reading Buddies programme at Cabot Primary School, a thriving and successful school in the centre of St Paul’s. The programme is designed to ensure all children leaving primary school are functionally literate.

Ablaze CEO Sally Melvin, said: “Ablaze’s Reading Buddy programme has been our flagship primary programme since 2005. We rely wholly on the support of local businesses, not only to put volunteers on the ground in schools, but also to fund Ablaze’s future growth and success.”

She said recent research from ‘Read On. Get On’, the campaign launched in 2014 by a coalition of charities and educational organisations to get all children reading well in England by the age of 11, found that a quarter of 11 year olds in England, and close to half of disadvantaged children, were unable to read well when they left primary school last year.

“Ablaze feels we have a duty to help bring businesses and schools tackle this growing problem together,” said Sally.

“We see literacy as a fundamental right for every child to achieve across all sectors of our community”.

National Friendly PR and corporate partnerships executive Kurtis Reece points out that, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the education of pupils in primary schools is now under serious pressure.

“Pupils receiving the support of an Ablaze business Reading Buddy not only increase their attainment levels but also improve their communication skills and outlook on life,” he said.

“Attention from an adult who isn’t a teacher or family member gives children a massive boost to their confidence and self-esteem. With Covid, and the current restrictions in place to tackle the spread of the virus, the Ablaze Reading Buddy programme is unable to operate as normal.

“Under restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, schools cannot welcome volunteers onto their premises – a situation likely to continue until 2021, and maybe beyond.” 

Ablaze, like all charities, is facing a number of critical issues due to the pandemic, especially financial, as normal fundraising activities suspended. Additionally, Ablaze’s case, it needs a safe and effective way to deliver its reading programmes in schools remotely, as volunteers can no longer carry out this vital activity face to face.

“The result is that vulnerable, primary school children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more at risk of being left behind in literacy and reading skills than ever.

In partnership with the schools it supports, Ablaze is working hard to develop new ways of delivering learning and support to teachers and parents using both online and digital solutions.

As outlined on Bristol Business News last December, the charity believes there are a range of opportunities for Bristol’s vibrant digital sector to lead through innovation and propose new solutions to address these critical issues.

In the meantime, Kurtis Reece is stressing the importance of fundraising in a period of acute hardship, especially for vulnerable children.

“National Friendly is supporting Ablaze Bristol through our own local sponsorship but alone this will not be enough,” he said.

“We need to encourage local businesses, the corporate sector and corporate donors to step forward, as well as encouraging the general public and parents to donate to this worthy cause.

“We remain true to our history, helping to support children in securing a better future.”

For more information, visit ablazebristol.org/ – your donation can help provide programmes in schools to tackle inequality of opportunity for young people.