A brand new campaign to improve literacy levels and get Manchester reading has attracted millionaire backing - twenty millionaires to be precise - all pupils at Plymouth Grove Primary School.
The year-long Council campaign 'Read Manchester' is in partnership with the National Literacy Trust and aims to get the city reading and to dramatically improve literacy levels across the board, from the very youngest to the oldest city residents.
The young Plymouth Grove millionaires - all of them considered to be 'reading rich' by their school - came along to the campaign launch this week to lend their support and to demonstrate their enthusiasm for reading. The school regularly rewards children for their reading prowess by bestowing upon them the title of 'Reading Millionaire' to mark their achievement.
The campaign has already also won the backing of Coronation Street star Jennie McAlpine, TV presenter Katie Thistleton, from CBeebies, and from Manchester United and Manchester City football clubs - as well as schools, libraries, local businesses, health professionals and academics from the city's universities.
The brand new drive to get the city reading comes at a time when literacy levels in the city's primary schools are at an all time high with latest figures showing that 88 per cent of pupils reached the required national standard in reading last year by the time they moved up to high school.
There is however always room for improvement, and city officials are keen to ensure that the newest generation of the city's children - from the very youngest pre-schoolers to those due to start school this September are given the very best start possible, and that literacy levels amongst this group of children and toddlers also continue to improve.
It's clear too, that although standards in local primary schools have seen rapid improvements over the last five years, literacy standards in secondary schools do appear to drop off by the time pupils reach the age of 16. One of the key targets of the campaign therefore will be to drive further improvements in this age group, to give students moving on to further and higher education, or into apprenticeships, the very best chance to succeed in their future studies and careers.
Another key part of the campaign will focus on getting businesses behind it. City officials are calling on businesses to back their campaign and to make workplaces reading and literacy friendly places - with advice and support available for staff - both to help improve the literacy levels of staff themselves, but also to help those staff who are parents in turn to help improve their own children's reading and literacy skills at home.
Councillor Rosa Battle, lead member for schools, said: "Although Manchester schools have made great strides forward over the last few years in terms of improving literacy levels, there is still more work to be done. We're a world class city and yet there are still small pockets of the city where reading levels and standards of literacy are amongst the poorest in the country and far from what they should be.
"We want all Manchester residents, young and old, to benefit from what our city has to offer, and it's very clear that the best way of helping them get the best out of it, is to get the basics like that of creating highly literate workforces and communities right. Going back to basics and getting the city reading is therefore at the heart of this new campaign to improve literacy levels - not just in schools, but in families, local communities, and in the workplace - so that everyone can share in the city's success now and in the future."
The city council has teamed up with the National Literacy Trust to deliver the year-long campaign, and a full programme of activities will soon be announced for everyone to get involved in and to get the whole city reading.
Abigail Moss, Deputy Director, National Literacy Trust, said: "We're thrilled to be working with Manchester City Council to launch this pioneering reading campaign, bringing together partners from the private, public and voluntary sectors across Manchester to have a huge impact on children and young people, and to bring long-term benefits to the city.
"Reading is the basis for developing strong literacy skills which can transform lives and economic outcomes, particularly in the most disadvantaged communities."
The campaign launch featured a performance poetry session for pupils from Plymouth Grove Primary with internationally award winning performance poet Dom Berry, who gave each of them copies of his latest book to take home and enjoy with the rest of their family. There was also a call to action for parents, businesses and local communities to get involved, get reading, and to show their support on social media for the new campaign by using #ReadMCR
To help kickstart the new campaign, Central Library will also be home for the next three weeks to a pair of Book Benches - iconic and fantastically decorated benches shaped like open books and available for members of the public during this time to sit on and consider the importance of reading and what it means to them, perhaps as they read a chapter of the latest book they have on the go. The Book Benches are on loan to the library from the National Literacy Trust - one of them is designed by illustrator Nick Sharratt and is themed on children's favourite author Jacqueline Wilson, and the other is based on 'Neverwhere' by best selling author Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell.
TV presenter Katie Thistleton from CBeebies is also lending her support to the campaign. She said: "I'm supporting Read Manchester and think it is a fantastic campaign. As a girl born and bred in Manchester who loves books, this is right up my street! I truly believe that reading stands you in great stead for your future, improving your vocabulary and knowledge without you even realising it, and relaxing the mind! Reading makes for a happy person, and if you're not a fan of it, I think you simply haven't found the right book yet! It might not be the one you're reading in school, or the one your friends like, but there is a book out there which will make you not want to do anything else but read! Let's make this the year that Manchester falls in love with reading!'