Britain‘s Biggest Reading Event!
As the cranking-up gets under way for this October’s Readathon, Brough Girling, the campaign’s director and head of the Children’s Book Foundation, explains how Readathon was founded and how it works.
If last October was anything to go by, hundreds of thousands of children will take part in this year’s Readathon. They will read well over a million books between them and, given a fair wind, they’ll raise over a million pounds to help children who are suffering from cancer.
It was some six years ago now that I and many colleagues at Books for Students were growing increasingly concerned that nothing much was being done to encourage children to read. Video games were all the rage, and while we knew we couldn’t take on the might of the electronics industry, it would be good if we could find some way of getting children to read a lot of books, and to create some publicity about it.
A major problem was that we all felt that a worthy campaign saying ‘reading is good’ or ‘pick up a book’ is more inclined to put off the reluctant or lazy reader than get them going.
Some of us were sitting one day in a bar in Budapest – you know, the way one does. (Actually we were attending an International Schools Conference.) We were chewing the problem over when some bright spark said, ‘Why don’t we get them to read books for money?’ Readathon was born!
Readathon is very simple. It works just like a school-sponsored walk except that the children read books for pledges of money from family and friends, instead of doing dreary laps of the playground: it’s surely a lot more worthwhile.
The first year, 1984, we held Readathon in aid of Mencap. We were amazed when the bank phoned us with the news that we’d raised £100,000! The next year we chose World Wildlife Fund; result: £137,000. We knew we were on to something spectacular.
Our managing director pointed out that the choice of charity was a vital factor in our success. ‘Do some market research,’ she said, ‘see who the teachers and children would really like to raise money for.’
I circulated a list of charities and asked schools to prioritise them. I put in the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund because I’d been to a fund-raising concert in Peterborough Cathedral the night before.
MSCF won hands down: in fact it got more votes than the next three charities added together – they, if I remember rightly, were Oxfam, Barnardo and Guide Dogs.
We ran the campaign and raised a quarter of a million pounds. It was the biggest cheque the Fund had ever received, and we knew that our MD had been right. We had found a charity that everyone – teachers, children and parents – wanted to support.
All that seems quite far off now – though it’s only a couple of years ago. It’s been superseded by 1987’s campaign when we raised £406,000 and last year’s Readathon which reached three-quarters of a million pounds.
Books for Students knew from the outset that if Readathon was going to be significant, and that means big, we would need the help of as many people in the children’s book industry as possible. Puffin Books therefore take the campaign to the high street trade – with W H Smith, the major chains and independent shops giving lots of support. Scholastic book clubs, Puffin clubs and Books for Keeps give enormous help by distributing enrolment forms to their customers. A major development in 1988 was that Typhoo Tea had agreed to sponsor all our costs – so the printing and promotion, over £50,000 worth, is paid for.
Readathon ’89 aims to raise a million pounds. Once more we are fortunate to have Typhoo’s help. It won’t be easy, but we know now that Readathon has a magic formula. After all, what can be better than a campaign that encourages children to read books, and helps the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund at the same time?
We need your help to reach our target. Please write or phone us at: The Readathon Office, Books for Students, Heathcote Estate, Warwick CV34 6TB (Tel: 0926 314366).
We believe that Readathon is a valuable ingredient in any school book week or book event. It’s something practical that every child can do, and it’s all about reading. Books for Keeps would like to hear from any school that has used Readathon in this way. We’d also be interested in any details or research concerning the stimulus Readathon can give to reading activity in a school, and what books were read.