At an event in Swindon last week, I was lucky enough to meet Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall.
As Patron of the National Literacy Trust, HRH was in town to celebrate its work, in partnership Swindon Borough Council and WHSmith, tackling low literacy levels in the area.
One particular aspect of the literacy problem in Swindon is the number of children who are in care or foster homes, which is higher than the national average.
Sadly, literacy and educational outcomes for these children are universally low. Nationally, only 6% of foster children go on to higher education, compared with 50% of young people from more advantaged backgrounds.
To try and overcome this in Swindon, the National Literacy Trust’s partnership has formed a partnership with WHSmith, which means that every child taken into care is given book tokens and a notebook to encourage them to read.
It’s great to see a large national business such as WHSmith giving back to the community in Swindon and they’re not the only one supporting efforts to improve literacy locally.
Owners of the Orbital Shopping Park, British Land, have given books to more than 600 primary school children over the past three years, in addition to hosting a number of reading themed events in the town.
But it is not just literacy amongst young people that the Trust is tackling.
Analysis of every parliamentary constituency in England by the National Literacy Trust showed that seven wards across North and South Swindon are in the top three deciles of literacy need.
Low literacy levels are a blight on the lives of those affected and are a significant barrier to employment. In addition, low literacy levels positively correlate with increased levels of crime.
None of this is positive for business or the economy, so I’d encourage businesses to get behind National Literacy Trust's programmes promoting reading for pleasure, employability skills and early language use have been piloted in schools and colleges across the town.
On the day, Her Royal Highness visited the Lyndhurst Centre to learn more about the important work being done there and even joined in with some of the activities they offer.
My hope is that this latest royal visit will help raise awareness of the great work the National Literacy Trust does locally, in addition to drawing attention to the social and economic problems associated with low literacy.