MP named as patron of books' scheme for children in care

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Alan Johnson MP is the new patron for children’s book reading club Letterbox.

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Alan Johnson at the launch of Letterbox Orange, with Booktrust CEO Viv Bird and the book club's founder, Rose Griffiths

The targeted reading programme run by the reading charity Booktrust has been extended for children between five- and seven-years-old, who are in care.

Children are sent personally addressed parcels to their homes, with packs including books, maths games and stationery. The programme has been linked to an improvement in children’s literacy and numeracy skills.

Mr Johnson launched the latest book parcel - Letterbox Orange - at an event at Portcullis House, Westminster.

The MP has a personal connection to the charity’s cause, as he revealed that his sister persuaded the authorities not to put him in care after their mother died. ‘The Letterbox Club provides the means for disadvantaged children to escape into another world and through doing so, helps to transform their lives,’ he said.

Viv Bird, chief executive at Booktrust, said that children in care still have poorer educational outcomes, with just 15 per cent attaining 5 GCSEs, including English and maths.

She said, ‘Research shows that many children are making significant gains in their standardised reading scores and improving their maths.’

Orange is the latest colour to join the existing Blue, Red, Green and Yellow Letterbox parcels, which cover different age groups and also cater for children with special needs. The parcels are sent out once a month for six months, which gives its recipients something to look forward to.

Around 7,500 looked-after children are members of the Letterbox Club.

Shannon, a ten year-old girl in care, said, ‘I thought “wow” when I got the parcel because I have never, ever had a package or a parcel in my entire life.’

Ms Bird spoke of how carers continue to inform the charity about how excited children are to receive the Letterbox packs in the post. The children also send postcards to the charity to praise the positive impact the packs have had on them.

One nine year-old boy said, ‘Thank you for the wonderful gifts, I now know that it’s not all bad in care and I love reading, so all the books come in handy.’

The Letterbox club was started in Leicester by foster carer and maths teacher, Rose Griffiths,  who wanted to find an enjoyable way of helping children in care to improve their reading and maths and to support foster carers who wanted to help the children they looked after.

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