Shiver our timbers – a pirate ship has docked in Tottenham. But be not afraid as this ship has books instead of cutlasses and the friendliest crew to navigate an ocean of education.
Acclaimed children’s charity the Hackney Pirates has now launched a second ship at the Trampery (formally 639 Enterprise Centre) on Tottenham High Road.
Called the Haringey Pirates, it aims to replicate the success of its big brother by helping hundreds of nine to 13-year-olds develop their literacy and confidence. These youngsters will have fallen behind at school for any number of reasons and have been referred to the pirates by their primary or secondary school for some extra support.
Once a week, for two-and-a-half hours, they will visit this entertaining environment where volunteers sit and read with the children on a one-to-one basis or in small groups, followed by a game and a writing session. If previous success is anything to go by the results will be impressive…
“In the space of a year the children are improving, on average, 52 per cent faster than age-related expectations,” said one of the teachers and volunteering manager Anthony Mensah. “And I get Christmas cards from parents saying, ‘My son used to hate reading before coming here but now I can’t get the book out of his hand before he goes to sleep at night!’”
Everyone working for the pirates has a title – Anthony is ‘the Swashbuckler ‘– while the children are known as ‘young pirates’. And everything is geared to make the learning experience as fun as possible, so the children enter through a secret passageway and different pirate characters help with their writing such as Captain Splurge who is good at coming up with ideas and the Refined Admiral who focuses on punctuation.
But why have they sallied forth to Tottenham?
“The main thing was the need in the borough,” said Anthony. “We work with children who have fewer opportunities and we had a look at the different boroughs which are neighbouring Hackney and the level of need here was quite high. So far it’s been great. We only opened at the start of January and we are already working with five Tottenham schools. The council has been very supportive and what we now need are more volunteers.”
The volunteers are essential to the success of the pirates. A large number are needed to ensure each child receives as near as possible the one-to-one help and support needed for them to improve their reading and writing.
Anthony was previously a volunteer. He worked in sales and pharmaceutical recruitment – “which wasn’t the most fulfilling thing in the world” – and enjoyed the volunteering so much he got a job with the pirates five years ago.
“It’s been a wonderful experience and so gratifying to meet a young person a year or two after they’ve been in our programme and see the difference it’s made to them,” he said. “All we ask is that volunteers do one session a month and they are not locked into a set day. We provide full training, so you don’t need any set experience, along with free DBS checks. We are looking for volunteers from a range of backgrounds – essentially people who are interested in engaging with young people and inspiring them.”