For Intergenerational Week we talked to some of our amazing volunteer pairs about their volunteering partnership. We talk here to Matilda and Cordelia – a pair of regular Home Reading Volunteers who currently volunteer on one of our Hammersmith and Fulham projects.
Here’s what they had to say …
Matilda: I’m Matilda – I’ve been a Doorstep Library volunteer since 2018 and over the years I’ve volunteered on various different projects but I’ve spent most of that time at the Fulham Broadway project in Hammersmith & Fulham.
Cordelia: And I’m Cordelia – I’ve been volunteering on the Fulham Broadway project for over five years. I wear many hats, I’m a Director of a small IT company, a carer, an NHS volunteer and a Mum of two grown-up children aged 23 and 25.
Q1. Why did you want to volunteer with Doorstep Library?
Matilda: I’ve always loved reading and believed in the power of stories (and had been aware of how lucky I was to have access to books while I was growing up) so when I was looking for volunteering opportunities, while I was at university, Doorstep Library seemed like a perfect fit. I remember that Doorstep Library seemed unique because it involved visiting families in the home rather than reading with children in school which I think makes it easier for the focus to be on loving reading for pleasure, rather than books being something associated with schoolwork. I now work in the publishing industry so Doorstep Library’s mission is still completely aligned with my knowledge and interests and I’m really glad I’ve been able to carry on volunteering even though I’m no longer a student and now in full-time work.
Cordelia: I didn’t become a keen reader until my mid-20s. Up until then, I read little, mostly because I was encouraged to read classics which I found boring, and were often above my reading level and comprehension. If I’d read fun, age-related, page-turners I would certainly have read more. And for that reason, I volunteered with Doorstep Library – to encourage children to read from a young age for pleasure. It doesn’t matter what you read, just read!
I also love the families I visit. I’ve seen many children grow up and set off to primary school and then to secondary school. Being a confident reader expands your knowledge and landscape. Two young boys, who were easily distracted and who could barely sit still for a short picture book story, now request books on current affairs, black history and immigration.
Q2. As it’s Intergenerational Week, how and why do you think your age (whether older or younger) impacts the children you visit?
Matilda: I think it’s great, and really valuable to have a range of ages in our volunteer groups because everyone brings unique knowledge and experience to the table. People of different ages probably have different knowledge of books, different knowledge of reading techniques and different knowledge of what it’s like to be a young person or a parent these days. And every child is different – some of them will feel more comfortable with younger volunteers, and some will feel more comfortable with older volunteers! So it definitely works well if a volunteer pair is made up of people of different ages because you can cater to different needs within a family. Likewise, in our interaction with parents, sometimes it helps to have an older volunteer who might have had specific common experiences, or be able to empathise with parents more easily because they have been through something similar.
Cordelia: I’m in my 50s and my volunteer partner is in her 20s. I think it’s a great combination. Some children clearly gravitate towards my younger volunteer partner. You can feel her energy appeals to them. But other times, when a child wants to be quieter, they will sit and read with me.
Q3. How do you think your age impacts your volunteering partner?
Matilda: Most of the time that I’ve volunteered with Doorstep Library I’ve been paired with an older volunteer. I’ve usually been the younger one in the pair and I’ve always found that it works very well as we provide a better service to children and families by being able to offer different knowledge and personalities. I have also enjoyed getting to know and spend time with someone who I wouldn’t have otherwise had contact with! It just seems obvious to me that spending time with people who aren’t exactly like you will broaden your mind. And obviously, people who are older than you have lots of wisdom to share. I’ve learned so much from the other volunteers I’ve been paired with – about books and reading and how to interact confidently with children and families, but also about life. And at the same time as recognising that we bring different things to the table, it also shows you how similar we all are and how much we have in common – we might be different ages but we most likely have some common experiences (or at least we might be reading the same books or watching the same TV shows!)
Cordelia: We chat when we’re walking to the project and I use that time to ask my volunteering partner all manner of things from what her age group are reading, listening to, and watching, as well as parenting advice! Language and how you learn has changed considerably since I was at school so being with someone more recently out of education is helpful for my understanding of the system today.
Q4. How do you think Doorstep Library helps bridge the age gap between its volunteers and families?
Matilda: I think the whole act of reading books together can bridge an age gap because it doesn’t matter what age you are, you can always get lost in a story. And lots of children’s books are amazing in that way because they’re simple enough for children to follow and understand, but they also have complexities and nuances that adult readers can appreciate on a different level. And following on from what I said before, getting to know and spending time with people of different ages is a way to bridge the gap and connect people.
Cordelia: I think it’s important to have intergenerational volunteers. It’s important for volunteers to be able to relate to parents as well as children. I’d love to see more intergenerational volunteering partnerships and more diversity – most of us, on my project, are middle-aged white women.
Q5. What would be your advice for others who are thinking of volunteering at Doorstep Library?
Matilda: Go for it! It’s fun and rewarding and you’ll learn a lot at the same time as helping children learn to read. You don’t need to be an expert in children’s literature, you just need to believe in the importance of books and reading.
Cordelia: Enjoy the children learning and developing – it is extraordinarily rewarding.