Earlier in the week my firm hosted a fantastic event for the National Literacy Trust (one of our main charity partners); a fundraising lecture delivered by Anthony Horowitz. I’ve written elsewhere about the palaver surrounding the dinner we also hosted and my dress-buying carry-on, but I didn’t actually say why the event was being held in the first place and what it was like.
The NLT has known for a while that it needed to develop some additional funding streams – it’s received some good government grants in the past (and quite rightly so, given that the Trust’s work has mirrored very well the various policy aims regarding literacy), but all of its funding has been cut. The people who run the NLT are not the type to sit around and bemoan the facts, though; instead, they’ve been hugely resourceful and have started finding revenue opportunities and other ways to find financial support for the charity’s great work.
The event we hosted was designed to launch a new and pretty cool-sounding fundraising strategy, so the charity wanted to do it with a bang; Anthony Horowitz was the man for the job. He delivered a 40-minute lecture entitled ‘Literacy: The State of the Nation’ and it was fantastic: really entertaining, but also challenging and thought-provoking. He certainly didn’t feel obliged to toe the NLT party line: the charity is unashamedly populist when it comes to encouraging people (and young people in particular) to read, reasoning that the act of reading can be encouraged through many media. Horowitz was completely frank in his opinions of ‘junk’ books (Dan Brown came in for quite a caning), although he did acknowledge later in the lecture that authors like Brown, for all their literary flaws, do know how to tell a good and fast-paced story.
More than anything, the Horowitz lecture was properly inspiring. I have loved working with the cause for the past few years because I believe passionately that literacy is the cornerstone of a happy, productive and engaged life: reading sparks our imaginations, enables us to participate fully as citizens and provides us with the most basic tools we need to support ourselves. Adults with poor literacy – and in the UK that’s one in six adults (with a reading age of no greater than 11 years old) – are virtually disenfranchised; unable to debate issues, read the considered opinions of others, or play any active role in the running of a country. If you talk to those who are represented in the worst statistics in society – prison populations, communities surviving on benefits, the unemployed – the chances of encountering people with literacy problems are very high.
Horowitz spoke so eloquently of the purpose of literacy and – equally importantly – the pleasure afforded by literacy. He described the joy of curling up with a good book, or discovering a new author that you love and then discovering that there is an entire body of work with which to acquaint yourself, and the entire audience sighed in recognition.
Anyway, the lecture seemed to serve its purpose: there were a lot of filled donation envelopes handed in at the end of the evening!