‘Imagine a world without words’ – Paul Webster

Published on 15/02/2024

1 in 4 children leave primary school unable to read well, which can have a devastating impact on their life chances. It’s shocking that 7.1 million adults in England currently struggle to read. Bookmark Reading Charity are trying to change this. They support primary school children across the country to progress their literacy and discover joy in reading.

This is why the DHL UK Foundation partners with Bookmark. They are an organisation committed to changing children’s life stories through the power of reading. Paul Webster, Head of Compensation and Benefits for DHL Express, has taken part in Bookmark’s six week reading programme, reading with a child for 30 minutes twice a week. Here’s his story…

Why Bookmark?

I have two boys and when they were younger, I read to them most evenings before bed. There’s fond memories of them looking up at me in awe when I helped them understand words and read stories.

Since moving back to England three years ago, I have been shocked by the level of literacy in the UK. Bookmark’s reading programme felt the perfect opportunity to help young people develop their literacy skills and find joy in reading (for the purposes of this case study, my young reader will remain anonymous and be referred to as Annie).

Meeting Annie

Before our first session, the nerves were kicking in. I felt less nervous presenting to the SLT team at work than reading with a young person! However, I did not need to worry. Everything about the session went so well. Annie is a bubbly 8 year old who is quite a confident reader although she doesn’t stop for breath. As part of our introductions, she excitedly told me about her pet tortoise. We decided the first book we should read should be about tortoises!

Annie’s excitement about reading was clear. She was all about speed, not allowing a full stop to get in the way. When reading, she would make the odd mistake or skip over words. I soon realised this was due to speed. As we progressed, I realised Annie would read words without understanding what they meant. I learnt we needed to stop at certain points and explain the words she didn’t understand, so she fully understood the plot.

Growing in confidence

Annie was ready for her second session and we worked on reading slower, recognising punctuation, and conveying excitement, essentially reading the book how it was intended to be read.

As the sessions went on, Annie’s confidence grew and she began to visualise the story. In today’s world, technology plays such a key part in young people’s lives, that I think they forget to imagine the story. Everything is given to them in a pre-made picture. Annie began using online tools to draw pictures, adding crazy hair to characters and circling the bees flying through the book. It was clear she was having fun while learning.

My key takeaway

For anyone considering signing up to Bookmark’s Reading Programme, I would encourage you to put yourself forward. You will get far more out of it than you expect. Both Bookmark and the DHL UK Foundation are there to answer any questions and help you feel comfortable with the material. We have the support of the business so why wouldn’t you want to help a young person develop their reading? I have loved watching Annie grow in confidence and I am so pleased to have signed up to continue reading with her in 2024.

My favourite book?    

My favourite book has to be Lord of the Rings, although the Harry Potter books are a close second. I love all the mythical creatures – goblins, dragons, elves, you name it!