By Rachel Ellis, Beanstalk Team Leader based in South East London.

At Beanstalk, we welcome volunteers from all walks of life. Students in need of experience, mums with time on their hands and freelancers craving routine, are all volunteering in local primary schools to inspire children to love reading. But retired professionals have always been something of a dream team. Here are three reasons why, when a retired professional applies to volunteer, we know we’re putting our young Beanstalk readers in a safe pair of hands.

They bring their wisdom

Beanstalk volunteers benefit from a full programme of training and support. That said, each volunteer gets to know their three children with the unspoken question “what would it take to inspire this child to love reading?” The answer is never a prescriptive curriculum, so we don’t have one. Instead, each volunteer discerns what their children will connect with and provides it in their own unique way.

We’ve seen volunteers bring everything from their knitting to a football programme into school, to engage their children in a half-hour session which weaves its way in and out of reading. Week by week this child-led approach shows the children that reading isn’t a ‘pass-or-fail’ piece of work, but a portal of discovery.

Teachers would love the luxury of regular one-to-one time with the children, but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, so the volunteer is often the one who gets to know the child well enough to wake up at 3am shouting “He’s afraid of failure! That explains everything!” Discerning a child’s unique needs and finding an inventive way to meet them is a skill that volunteers bring from all industries. No experience with children or schools is necessary because the most useful skills are the creativity, ingenuity and wisdom which only come with life experience.

They want to give

There are many reasons for volunteering. Research shows it makes you happier and healthier.

86% of Beanstalk volunteers say volunteering with us helps them feel mentally active and 64% say they feel more a part of their community. But our best volunteers aren’t here to improve their lives - they want to improve the lives of others.

Retired professionals aren’t interested in networking or proving themselves or building their CV. They often come to Beanstalk contented with what they’ve already experienced but distinctly discontented with the struggles and setbacks experienced by the children in their community. Over a quarter of children in the UK leave primary school unable to read well enough to make the most of secondary school. Tragedies like this drive retired professionals towards an opportunity to make a meaningful difference, and that’s why they volunteer with Beanstalk.

They’re prepared for a challenge

Whatever their story, retired professionals know how to take an opportunity and make it work. They’re self-sufficient enough to work independently, but self-assured enough to ask for advice. They’ll happily admit to other volunteers that they tried playing good cop, bad cop and bargaining cop before they hit upon their ‘disguised reading’ strategy that allows their child to practice reading card game instructions, recipe cards and riddles until they feel confident enough to return to whole books.

It’s not easy to create a sanctuary in the middle of a bustling school and draw the inner bookworm out of the reluctant reader. Success isn’t instant and it may be decades before the child recognises the difference their volunteer made to their life. Retired professionals are uniquely suited to volunteering because they have accumulated wisdom, they’re motivated by giving and they’re up for a challenge. Everyone brings their unique skills, viewpoint and style to volunteering, but retired professionals have a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ which makes them indispensable!

If you would like to learn more about our volunteering opportunities or other ways you can support the great work we’re doing for children’s literacy at Beanstalk, do have a look at our website https://www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk/