Time to Read is an award-winning volunteering initiative developed by Business in the Community Northern Ireland (BITCNI) and supported by the Department of Education.
Building on the scientific assertion that children who can read well by the age of seven are more intelligent in later years, Time to Read aims to bridge the gap in literacy skills for children up to the age of ten, by bringing volunteers from Northern Ireland businesses into local primary schools.
Established in 1999, Time to Read operates within the school day during term time. Local volunteers from across Northern Ireland read on a one-to-one basis with children, fostering a love of reading, supporting their progress, encouraging confidence and social skills, and giving students an insight into the world of work.
Throughout the last academic year, BITCNI’s ‘Time to’ programmes, which also feature Time to Count and Time to Code, have been able to support 1,415 pupils with their literacy, numeracy, and digital skills across 99 school engagements in 80 different schools. Pre-pandemic the ‘Time to’ programmes had around 500 volunteers, made up of retirees who volunteered in their spare time, and volunteers from businesses including Baker McKenzie and A&L Goodbody. As things return to normal following the pandemic BITCNI hopes to reach these numbers again in this school year.
BITCNI provides full training and Access NI clearance for volunteers, ensuring businesses can empower their people to get involved by giving up one hour of their working week to volunteer in a local school. Businesses make an initial commitment of one year with the option of extending, and some project volunteers are now in their fifth and sixth years. Time to Read is available either in person or via online options.
One business that has participated heavily in Time to Read throughout recent years is Allen and Overy. Speaking at Time to Read Business Showcase, Ciaran McCallion and Darren Boylan spoke about how Time to Read has offered huge advantages to the company, including developing staff confidence, increasing self-esteem and communication skills, motivating staff and enhancing teamwork, and raising the company’s profile in the local community and building partnerships with local schools.
Ciaran said, “We find that all of our staff love to go up to the school. They find it hugely rewarding but also, quite simply, it’s just really good fun; there’s a feel-good factor in it. I’m a volunteer myself, and the children provide so much positive energy, which is so infectious that it leaves you in a great mood for the rest of the day. We have regular volunteers, and they always remark on the improvements they see in the children over time, both in regard to their literary skills but also their social skills and their overall confidence. Many of our volunteers love to read themselves, so for them to have the opportunity to try and pass on that enthusiasm and instil a love of reading into someone else is something that will stay with them for a lifetime.”
Darren added, “We built the Time to Read programme into our normal working week, to ensure people have the time to go to visit the school and spend time with the students. It’s incredibly popular with our staff, we have more volunteers than we have time slots to offer them, and it’s been integrated into our entire offering to our staff. When volunteers come back from the school, they give great reports on the progress the kids are making and that pays off in the office, because it encourages the whole staff body to do more in that space. And of course, as a company invested in the Northern Ireland workspace, all young people are future employees, so through programmes like this we’re building skills in them. We’re building literacy skills in young people and providing role models from within our own workplace to the young people in the schools, so that they can get a different perspective on things, which they might not normally get. It really is wonderful.”
The Time to Read volunteers bring huge advantages to schools, including motivating and developing children both academically and socially, introducing children to a positive role model from the world of work, and enabling children to work on a one-to-one basis, therefore improving their communication skills, confidence, and self-esteem. Such is the success of the project so far, 100% of participating schools say they would recommend Time to Read to another school.
Principal of Mercy Primary School, Elaine Loughran, said “The first and most important benefit is the happy faces we see on the children. The children are delighted to see volunteers come in to see them every week, they love the opportunity to build a relationship with a volunteer and to talk about literature and talk about the books that they’re reading, and just to have an adult who is there, who is interested in them, and whom they can build confidence and esteem alongside.
“From a principal’s point of view, a huge benefit is that we’re seeing attendance increase in the number of days volunteers come in. Even children who can sometimes be reluctant want to be there on those days because they don’t want to miss it, and our scores over the eight years we have been involved with the programme show that it is making a difference. We are delighted to have Allen and Overy and its committed team of volunteers in our school.
After what has been a difficult few years for schools and their students, BITCNI is proud to continue running the Time to Read Programme and looks forward to even greater numbers supporting the ‘Time to’ initiatives, and best of all even more students benefitting from them. If you are a school or business that may wish to get involved, please visit our ‘Time To Read’ page.