A rail trip to Morecambe has been an unlikely driver for adult literacy.

Concept and aims

Research suggests there is a strong link between high poverty levels and low educational attainment. According to figures from the National Literacy Trust, one in three children from the Bradford region left primary school with low reading skills last year, and in some areas, nearly half of adults (47.2%) had literacy skills lower than those expected of an 11-year-old.

Community Rail Lancashire is supporting the National Literacy Trust in promoting an early love of reading with Bradford families and encouraging parents to engage in activities to improve literacy skills. The trust has set up a programme, ‘Inspiring Parents’, that aims to improve literacy attainment for children by supporting parents to be more involved in their learning at school and at home. It is run by ‘parent champions’, volunteers from the local community who are best placed to understand, and help overcome, the challenges facing families in the area.

To coincide with the launch of the programme, the partnership organised day trips to Morecambe for the parent champions, who are asked to try and inspire their peers to spend more time on literacy activities with their families. The trips were designed to encourage parents to sign up to volunteer on the programme, but also to demonstrate to families how enjoyable it is to spend time together playing games on a journey, and to promote rail travel as a cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative to taking the car.

 

What happened

The trips took place during the 2019 Easter holidays, one featuring a group from Keighley and the other a group from Tong and Bowling, two of the most deprived wards in the Bradford district. The families were invited by project organisers based on their suitability to become parent champions.

To encourage the positive experience of reading together as a family, the National Literacy Trust provided each child with a book, which most read on the journey. Activity packs for the children to complete while on the train were also donated by The Bentham Line. Karen from Community Rail Lancashire spoke to the parents about the benefits of a Friends and Family Railcard, comparing how much the trip would have been for a family of four with and without the card.

After becoming friends while on the train, highlighting the social benefits of train travel, some families then chose to spend the day together on arrival in Morecambe. On the second trip, the Bradford group were sadly not blessed with good weather, but many said they would like to return on a sunnier day, and now they knew how easy it was to take the train, they would!

 

Results

Feedback from those who went on the trips was extremely positive, and for some, it was their first-ever experience of train travel. One family accustomed to travelling by car said they would now consider rail travel far more frequently, as “going on a train was a different kind of entertainment.” One parent who suffers from anxiety said the day had impacted positively on her mental health, with the chance to speak to others helping her to relax, and the trip giving her valuable time to spend with family and friends.

A spokesman for Community Rail Lancashire said of the day trips: “Now that the parent champions have been on a rail journey, they can inspire their peers to do the same.  Therefore, further trips have been planned with other families in the area so they too can see the benefits of rail travel and gain new ideas as to how to do literacy activities as a family.”

The project required no direct funding, with travel for each family provided by Northern, books given by the National Literacy Trust, and picnics donated by Morrisons supermarkets.