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National Friendly steps up to help primary school learning through local charity

11/01/2021

National Friendly, the Bristol-based insurer, has seen a lot of change in its 150 year history.

Originally, the company was started to provide sickness benefits to working men, but also, uniquely amongst friendly societies at the time, it welcomed working women and children too. This pioneering stance was long before any state provision, when poverty, poor education, poor working conditions, inequality and poor health were huge social issues of the day.

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

As a result, it has a unique insight and view into the pressures facing local people, particularly now, 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, Bristol. The Reading Buddies programme is designed to ensure all children leaving primary school are functionally literate.

Sally Melvin, CEO at Ablaze 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 fundAblaze’sfuture growth and success. Recent  research fromthe ‘Read OnGet On’ campaign 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. “We see literacy as a fundamental right for every child to achieve across all sectors of our community”.

Kurtis Reece, National Friendly’s PR and Corporate Partnerships Executive points out that the education of pupils in primary schools is now under serious pressure, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  “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. 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.

The pandemic is presenting all charities, including Ablaze with a number of critical issues, especially funding, with normal fundraising activities suspended.  Additionally, in the case of Ablaze, 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 both teachers and parents using both online and digital solutions.

The charity sees a range of opportunities for the vibrant Bristol digital sector to lead through innovation and propose new solutions to address these critical issues. Sally Melvin continued, “We believe that there is an opportunity to tap into and engage with the creative and digital sectors in Bristol, to develop a network of businesses that could support the development of our resources and programmes in schools. We believe the digital sector in Bristol could emerge as future partners for Ablaze, something that could also help their own business models to diversify, as they innovate and spearhead new ways of learning and supporting primary education.”

For National Friendly’s Reece, this is all about fundraising in a period of acute hardship, especially for vulnerable children. He ends, “National Friendly is supporting Ablaze Bristol through our own local sponsorship but alone this will not be enough. 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, please visit https://ablazebristol.org/ #RaiseForAblaze your donation can help us provide programmes in schools to tackle inequality of opportunity for young people.