Why I volunteer - Stewart Jones from Heidelberg Materials UK

"Reading is the basis of all knowledge - it's a fundamental skill that all children need to have."

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Stewart Jones is a Senior Sustainability Manager at our Gold Partner Heidelberg Materials UK, and is in his second year of being a volunteer. We spoke to Stewart to find out more about his experience of volunteering with Chapter One.

What motivated you to begin volunteer reading with Chapter One?
I just thought it was a great concept. I’m on the social value steering committee at Heidelberg Materials UK, and someone brought the idea to the committee. I thought, this looks like a good idea, shall we try it? Now I’m in my second year of being a volunteer.

What are the benefits of being a Chapter One reading volunteer for you personally?
I've got children of my own who I used to read with all the time. They're both grown up now, but I find it satisfying from that point of view - that you're helping another child develop and learn, like I did with my own.

I'm also an avid reader myself. I read all the time, so I drummed into my kids that reading is the basis of all knowledge - it's a fundamental skill that all children need to have. So for me, Chapter One is a great opportunity to do it again and help other children out.

I'm coming towards the end of my career so for me it's just something I enjoy doing, and see it as a benefit, for me personally, and obviously for my reader.

How have you found the support from Chapter One?
I can't fault it. The other day, my pupil said to me “My screen has gone blue!” And I couldn’t see that, so I went straight to the chat function. Within seconds it was resolved. Any queries I’ve had have been sorted really quickly. I'm really impressed with the chat facility, and the support from the admin team has been great too.

What has been the most noticeable change in reading for this pupil?
We’ve had over 11 sessions now, and she has developed this year beyond a shadow of a doubt. I think the biggest change for my reader is the confidence that I can feel coming through. And not even just with her, but also with me a little bit. So now when she joins the call, she's singing a little tune and I'm like, “Oh, what's the tune today, then?” And she’ll start the session by telling me about her dog first and then other stuff that’s going on. But then when we get down to business and get into the reading, she is fully focused on it. And I think that's the thing, I've seen her grow in confidence. And her focus on reading is great, she just wants to do it. She’s absolutely no trouble whatsoever.

One thing she wasn’t really getting in the beginning was punctuation, she just saw the words and read through them. Now she sees where the commas and exclamation marks are, and even the question marks sometimes. And you can tell from her voice that she's actually understanding, not just reading the words on the page. She’s very committed and lets me know what she wants to do in the sessions - I’ll say “What shall we do next?” and she’ll say “Now I want to read a hard story!”

Have you noted any changes in reading skills (comprehension, phonics, fluency etc)?
Definitely comprehension. I make sure to ask her plenty of questions about the story and the pictures throughout our session. We had a story recently about turtles, and we both had a go at counting how many we could see on the page - she had one more than me, so she pointed out the one I’d missed, which was quite funny. And then on the next page, there were loads more of these turtles on the beach and she was like, “I'm just going to count these!” And away she went, and she got to about 35. It was really fun to do that and explore what's around the story as well rather than just reading through it.

She didn't do it initially but now she comments on the characters so I can tell she’s understanding the context and the story. And another thing we do in our sessions is, if she comes across a tricky word, I will check that she knows what it means, and we talk about it. I can see she’s connecting the stories we read to real life, which is really great.

Have you noticed any changes to reading motivation and enjoyment?
I think she’s always enjoyed the sessions but now she's disappointed when they end. I used to look at the clock and think, “Well, we've got a few more minutes. What can we do?” And now she's like, “Well, I want to read a story, a hard one.” But then after that you've got to have time for a game of 3 in a Row, which she loves! I always draw on the first one, but then I always let her win the second one. And if we've got a bit more time at the end I’ll say, “What do you want to do?” and she’ll go “I'll read another story!”. So even 25 minutes into the 30-minute session, she’s ready to read, which is really great.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about how this pupil has changed or benefited since participating in Chapter One’s online reading programme?
For me, it’s just been amazing to see my pupil really come into herself - when she joins the call singing and she's chatting about other stuff that’s going on in her life. It’s like she’s matured and grown into herself, and I’ve got to witness that.

We had a Meet and Greet video session that she missed because she was ill that week and I was quite disappointed because I didn't get to see her on screen, which shows how much I’ve been enjoying the sessions and the relationship we’ve built up. It's just such a pleasure being a Chapter One volunteer because you've got a young child who you can help grow, become more interested in reading and see them develop over the school year.

Have there been any standout moments whilst being a Chapter One online reading volunteer?
I remember asking my pupil last year what his favourite lesson at school was, and he said, “This one!” which was really lovely.

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.