Kent Charity Profile: Beanstalk

Good levels of literacy in school children is important for so many reasons – it builds confidence, it helps them with their friendships, and of course, not being literate will put them at a great disadvantage when it comes to the world of work. This month, insideKENT’s Lisamarie Lamb spoke to Kent literacy charity Beanstalk’s CEO Ginny Lunn.

Burlington Primary - reading helper and girl joking

What is it that Beanstalk does? 

We’re a charity that recruits, trains and supports volunteers to provide one-to-one support to children in primary schools who struggle with their reading ability and confidence. Together they’ll read books, have a chat, and play educational games. It sounds simple but it’s really effective in helping to transform the education of the children we work with and it gives them the confidence to thrive in and out of the classroom.

Why is a charity like Beanstalk needed? 

It often surprises people when you tell them this, but we really are facing a literacy crisis in England, and sadly it’s particularly heightened in Kent and Medway.

In the last school year (2015-16), over 31% of children left primary school in Kent and Medway unable to read to the required level. This means that – on average – 10 children in every class are leaving their primary education without the basic skills to succeed in the next stage of their lives.

We urgently need to change this as it’s putting far too many children at risk of the long-term consequences of low-literacy. The problems it can cause are more than not being able to read the latest bestseller. It’s about ensuring that they are able to be engaged and thrive in school, gain consistent full-time employment as adults, and pass on a love of reading to their own children in the future.

What is the charity’s history? 

We first started over 40 years ago, all the way back in 1973 when our founder – Susan Belgrave MBE – saw that too many children in her area were leaving school without being able to read well. She decided to take action and start Volunteer Reading Help, as Beanstalk used to be known. Over the last 40 plus years we’ve managed to grow and grow, and in 2012 we became known as Beanstalk in time for our 40th anniversary. From what started as seven volunteer reading helpers working in two schools, we now work across the country and support over 11,000 children in 1,400 schools.

Burlington Primary School 9

We launched our work in Kent and Medway 25 years ago and we’re currently supporting over 1,500 children in the area, but we’d love to be able to help even more children.

How do you raise money? 

Our partner schools make a small contribution towards our service, which is subsidised by our fundraising team. We have the support of businesses, charitable foundations, and people across the country who really help make our work possible. We’ve actually just launched our new International Challenge which is a three-day hike to the top of the highest peak in North Africa, Mount Toubkal. This trek will not only support our working across England, but it will also go towards a local school near Mount Toubkal which our trek team will visit and help out at. It’s a really exciting challenge so if you would like to find out more then please do visit

How important are volunteers to Beanstalk, and what sort of things do they do? How can our readers get involved? 

Our volunteer reading helpers are the lifeblood of Beanstalk, we simply wouldn’t be able to deliver our life-changing one-to-one reading support without their commitment, support and expertise.

I’ve been a volunteer reading helper myself for about a year now and I can honestly say that it is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done. The other week one of the girls I support managed to finish a book for the first time in her life and it made me so proud of her, as she’s come such a long way in just a few months’ worth of support.

If you’d like to get involved and become a Beanstalk reading helper then visit or call 01622 662026.

Where do you operate? 

We work across the Kent and Medway area and we’ve also just started working in East Sussex which we’re excited about. On a national level we also work across London, the Midlands, the North of England, and in Somerset and Norfolk.

What does the future hold? 

We’re expanding our work so that we support 30,000 children every year. And we’re soon to be helping children from ages 3-13, as the earlier we can support children the bigger the educational improvements. We’re also increasing our work in Kent and Medway, so that we can ensure that more children have the skills and confidence they need when leaving primary school.

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