Literacy campaign launches in Birmingham

Local role models launch new campaign to change young people’s life stories.

Birmingham is one of the most vulnerable areas to literacy challenges in the entire country, with 50% of wards in the city ranking in the top 10% of need in England, and 41% of young people in Birmingham failing to achieve good GCSE grades in English language and maths in 2018. Research shows that young people who leave school with low literacy skills are more likely to experience unemployment, poverty, poor health and even shorter lives as adults.

Local role models will launch the new campaign on Friday 18th October at an event at the University of Birmingham School. The group includes Aston Villa footballer, Natalie Haigh, member of local singing sensation, Sons of Pitches, Joe Novelli, former Birmingham poet laureate and boxer, Matt Windle, author and Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, Ruth Gilligan, and MP for Edgbaston, Preet Gill (pictured). They will speak to 200 secondary school students about the importance of stories and literacy in their own lives.

Birmingham Stories will build a movement across the city to address its literacy challenges through activities in schools, communities and adult learning services to encourage reading for pleasure and inspire people through storytelling.

Activities already planned for the campaign include literacy training for teachers, a story writing competition, poets’ visits to schools, and bringing the Narrative 4 ‘story exchange’ model to Birmingham to help young people to understand themselves and one another better through the power of empathy.

The campaign will be informed by young people from local secondary schools, who will be invited to join an advisory panel to contribute their ideas and shape the campaign.

National Literacy Trust Chief Executive, Jonathan Douglas, said: “We are delighted to be launching our first university-led literacy campaign in partnership with the University of Birmingham. It is so exciting to be bringing young people together from across the city to shape our campaign, and share stories with one another through activities like the story exchange and our story writing competition.

“By working together with schools, local businesses, adult education services and young people, we have a real opportunity to spread a love of storytelling in the city, raise aspirations, and open the door to a world of work and higher education opportunities for everyone involved in the campaign.”

Birmingham Stories will build on the findings of University of Birmingham researchers, who will work closely with the National Literacy Trust to review and refine the place-based approach. It will enlist the unique resources of the University of Birmingham, from student volunteers and digital reading resources to widening access schemes, to boost the aspirations of people of the city.

University of Birmingham Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Arts and Law, Professor Andrzej Gasiorek, said: “We are thrilled to be working with the National Literacy Trust to boost literacy levels in our city. The University of Birmingham was the UK’s first civic university, and by partnering with the country’s leading literacy charity, we can continue to develop our pioneering vision of higher education today.

“Research will be integral to our work together: our partnership will realise the benefits to Birmingham and beyond of the university’s world-leading research in literature, language, digital humanities, empathy and the power of storytelling. By combining the National Literacy Trust and UoB’s research expertise, we aim to generate new knowledge about literacy and create life-changing new opportunities for the people of our city.”

The launch of Birmingham Stories will coincide with the University of Birmingham’s Book to the Future Festival on 18 and 19 October to kick off the literacy celebrations! The events and talks at the festival are free for everyone to attend, and include talks on transcultural storytelling and gender inequality in fiction by University of Birmingham researchers, Ruth Gilligan and Michaela Mahlberg.

To find out more about the Birmingham Stories campaign, visit