27 June 2024

Why I volunteer - Steve Brown, Unum

"Getting feedback from the teacher that your pupil wouldn't be spending this amount of time reading if it wasn't for the programme is very rewarding."


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Steve Brown is a Key Account Director at our Silver Partner Unum, whose 30 volunteers have provided over 260 hours of one-to-one online reading support to Chapter One children so far this school year. We caught up with Steve to see how his first year of being a Chapter One volunteer has gone.

What motivated you to begin volunteer reading with Chapter One?
A couple of things: we've got a few people at Unum that have been doing it and they always talked about it being the highlight of their week, so I wanted to be involved in that! But also, I work in sales which is really busy and can be quite high-pressure hitting targets, so having something in the week to break that up is nice. It's something else to look forward to that I always know is in the calendar and it's completely different to anything else I'm doing. I specifically schedule my reading sessions for the middle of the day on Wednesdays, so it’s right in the middle of my week. It's a very welcome break.

Another other reason I got involved as well is because I have experience of being a trustee of a charity called Delight. One of the first things they did was provide physical books into schools for children facing disadvantage to take home, so when the opportunity to volunteer with Chapter One came up it was quite closely connected with what I do with Delight. Delight has evolved to providing theatre productions and arts classes for the children they support, as well as reading support, but the reading was where it really all started, so it's nice to be able to do it again with another charity.

What are the benefits (if any) of volunteer reading with this child for you personally?
I've got three young boys myself, so it's good to see where other kids are at in terms of their reading. Chapter One has sparked me into doing some more reading with my own boys, because you take that for granted that they're getting reading support at school. It has boosted me to say to them “Why don't you read a couple of pages to me?” which has been great.

Can you tell us about the Chapter One child you’ve been reading with this year?
I’m reading with a young boy called William, who’s really sweet. His engagement levels have definitely improved since we started, along with his reading ability. He's moved up one reading level so far, and he’s more confident trying to sound out the more difficult words rather than relying on me.

I also feel like I'm really getting to know him as we have more and more reading sessions - he tells me about other stuff that’s going on in his class, things that he's doing in school, so it feels like he's really coming out of his shell, which is nice. I don't think he reads a huge amount outside of our sessions, so it's been nice to see him progress.

What aspects of the Chapter One Online Reading Volunteers Programme have been most beneficial to your pupil?
When we’re reading, the highlight feature (clicking on a certain word in a story to highlight it for the pupil) is brilliant, because I can just say “let’s go back to that word and try that again” and then I can like highlight it on the screen for him so he knows what I'm talking about, and he can have another go.

The questions at the end of the story also really make him think about what we’ve just read and help me to see that he has understood the story. I think the platform is great - I haven't had any issues; it's been pretty seamless!

Have there been any standout moments for you?
Definitely when we went up a reading level! It was really nice for him to get the recognition that he had progressed. It was also a key moment for me as he went from being at the top of the previous level, to then encountering trickier words and struggling a little at the start of the next level. I had to adapt and make sure to keep praising him and reinforce that as we had gone up a level, the stories were more challenging so it was ok to find some of the words difficult, and we could get through them together.

Another moment that will stay with me is when William and I were reading a book about London Bridge, and it was about the number of times that London Bridge has been burned down and then rebuilt over the time and it had the song ‘London's Burning’ in it. When we got to the song, instead of just reading it he just started singing it! It was really sweet, and completely off the cuff! It’s not the type of experience you get in your working day normally, so it was just such a nice thing to happen. It was completely unprompted and that's the joy of doing these things with children. They always surprise you!

What would you say to someone thinking of signing up to volunteer with Chapter One?
You can just tell you're making a difference. Getting feedback from the teacher that your pupil wouldn't be spending this amount of time reading if it wasn't for the programme is very rewarding, and it gives you a break from the working day too.

How can companies get involved in Chapter One?

Chapter One’s virtual, time-efficient, flexible model for volunteering will enhance your company’s employee value proposition, whilst fulfilling CSR or social value commitments around education, social mobility and inclusion. Employees can:

- volunteer online directly from their desks with no travel

- make a direct impact on the lives of children from disadvantaged communities

- support local communities across the UK

- improve their own well-being by helping others

- reconnect with your company’s social purpose

If you’re interested in joining us, we’d love to hear from you! You’ll find out who we currently work with on our partners’ page. You can contact us here or email sarah.taylor@chapterone.org.