“It has been really wonderful being able to read Fing with the children, then on a Sunday they get to Facetime their dad to have a chat and talk about the book because he took same one away with him. Reading Force is an amazing organisation which allows my husband to be involved even when he is not at home – Mummy.”
Alison Baverstock, founder of the charity Reading Force, described how the initiative has helped thousands of Armed Forces children, their parents and wider families cope with the strains and rigours of Forces life through shared reading.
“I see Reading Force as promoting resilience through good communication within the family. Resilience is not something that is innate, it has to be learned, and we see first-hand that sharing and chatting about books helps develop that inner strength.”
The concept is simple, yet beautifully effective. Families register to receive a special scrapbook and book from Reading Force posted to their home, all read their free book or any other title they wish to, and complete the scrapbook between them. The initiative is for families separated by deployment or training and families at home together. If a parent is away from home, during phone or video calls they can read and discuss the book – bridging the miles and feeling closer together through this shared experience.
Since the inception of Reading Force in 2011, 140,000 scrapbooks have been sent out worldwide. They are completely free and are used across all three Armed Forces Services. They are also utilised by veterans’ families, bereaved families, separated families, and those who have a parent serving a custodial sentence.
The Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust “Removing Barriers to Family Life” programme awarded Reading Force a £90,000 grant in February 2020, and since then the project has gone from strength to strength, with a significant increase in participating families during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Alison explained the effect that the lockdown had on demand for services:
“Since lockdown, the uptake in requests for scrapbooks has been explosive. We have seen a 900% increase in demand, particularly by Dads who want to maintain contact with their children when they cannot be with them.”
A young family highlight the way books can help keep them connected to their father during a long separation due to deployment:
“Our pack arrived the day after daddy left for a while and we didn’t know when he would be coming back because of the coronavirus. We were all a bit grumpy until our books and scrapbooks arrived. We don’t know when we will speak to daddy next, but we will read him our new books when we do.”
It is not just immediate family that benefits from Reading Force’s unique powers. It also has the ability to connect grandparents with their grandchildren, wherever they may be in the world. One Reading Force family posted to Brunei had one set of grandparents in London and the other in California. Reading the same book gave the family a reason to organise regular Zoom calls and to chat more than they would have otherwise.
Reading Force finds that the best way to reach Forces families, and tell them of the service they offer, is to use a multi-agency route. So the charity promote its services through primary care pathways such as schools and welfare services. Forces children are identified in the education service via the Service Pupil Premium, so they can be given Reading Force scrapbooks by the school. This has two benefits, it enables Forces children at the same school to discover each other, and make friends based on shared experience, and it also gives them recognition as a Forces child and a reason to feel special. Over the years, the charity has worked with a wide range of different settings and professionals who look after Forces families, and takes particular pride in being a collaborating organisation – eager to work with others who seek to benefit the same group, and hence cut down on overlapping administrative costs.
The Reading Force team are always finding ways to improve the service they provide to families, and due to popular demand, are currently designing a version of the scrapbook for teenagers. Watch this space.
If you are an organisation supporting Forces families and would like Reading Force scrapbooks and information to give to families, please go to: www.readingforce.org.uk