The Pulse bus into town is running late so I am worried I won't be in time for the start of the celebrations. And, as you know, I can't bear to miss out on anything, especially when it is of a Celebratory Nature.
I can't imagine the bus driver could have gathered, from my general demeanour, that I was in a hurry but, bless him, he put his foot down and, despite being stopped at every
set of traffic lights along the way, I still managed to make it into the Children’s Library at 5.29 p.m. - just one minute to go. I quickly take a seat in the front row, next to a sweet woman who has become a friend over the last six weeks. It's only
as I lower myself into the bright red chair that I find it is kiddie size - which means (I realise too late) that I will struggle to get to my feet when I am called up to be presented with my certificate. It also means that I have to look up at my friend,
seated on a normal-sized chair, in order to chat.
Yes, in case you hadn't guessed, I am here at the Annual Celebration Event for volunteers on the Summer
Reading Challenge. There is squash (both orange and summer fruits) available plus custard cream biscuits and a tin of Celebrations chocolates. There are many more volunteers present than I remember from past years and we have been graced with the presence
of a local County Councillor which is also a “first”. I'm really pleased he is here to learn about the undoubted success of this year’s Challenge. The statistics, indeed, speak for themselves.
No fewer than 16,000 West Sussex children signed up for the 2017 Challenge - that's an increase of 5,000 on the first year I volunteered in 2012. Over the course of the summer holidays, those children borrowed a staggering
345,000 books from one of the county’s 36 libraries. And cynics say nobody uses local libraries these days!
My lovely friend Francesca, who works for the
charity Outset Youth Action, has had the task of recruiting young people between the ages of 14 and 25 to serve as volunteers. Her success can be measured by the fact that these young volunteers put in a staggering 800 hours of time this summer at Worthing
library alone. My tally was a rather more modest 21 hours - but every one of them hugely enjoyable.
Our certificates are presented in batches of five at
a time. I love seeing all the young friends I met on the Summer Reading Challenge desk going up to collect their well-deserved certificates. It's interesting to note that, while back in my early days I was the only person over the age of 25, at today's ceremony
there are three of us Older Ones collecting our certificates.
One of the best things about volunteering at the library - apart from the twin joys of children
and books - is that the library staff always make us feel so very welcome, so much valued. “We couldn't manage without you!” they say, every time we report for duty. That's the way to treat volunteers. The Celebration chocolates are a delicious,
but unnecessary, extra. Though my stomach, of which, as you well know, I Am Always Thinking, might beg to differ.
Back home, Mr B wants to hear all about it. I
have been repeating the Significant Figures over and over in my head all the way home in case I forget them. I carefully take down from the kitchen cupboard door last year's Big Friendly Read certificate, with its charming Quentin Blake illustrations and replace
it with this year’s Animal Agents certificate - both provided by The Reading Agency. I had wondered whether this year's theme could possibly live up to last year’s Roald Dahl theme which was immensely popular among the small fry, but the figures
are proof positive that, whatever the theme, the youngsters will be up for the challenge.
Apparently the library staff already know what next year’s
theme will be but they have been sworn to secrecy. There's no way they are going to let me in on the Big Secret, knowing how difficult I would find it not to Spill The Beans on the Daily Blog. They do say that it's going to be, well, epic.
Roll on next summer! Whatever the theme, I'll be there on the Summer Reading Challenge desk, handing out smelly stickers and other rewards for reading each book; encouraging the tiny,
the shy and the excited alike to tell me about the stories they have enjoyed or the fascinating facts they have absorbed; and disturbing the peace of the library by executing loud drum rolls to mark the award of every “gold” medal and certificate.
Yes, I’ll be there! Provided, of course, they will have me…