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WHEN the Hampshire branch of the national charity Volunteer Reading Help closed in March due to lack of funding, Mary Davis and Sukhi Hazra decided to take matters into their own hands.

Mary and Sukhi, who had worked as volunteers for the charity, were keen to see their good work continue and set up Read for Life.

The community interest company recruits and trains volunteers to go into primary schools and work on a one-to-one basis with children who find reading difficult.

Set up in June, the service is already helping pupils from 15 primary schools in south-east Hampshire and West Sussex.

One of the schools to benefit is Bedenham Primary School in Bridgemary, Gosport.

Phil Laurie, deputy head and in charge of English at the school, said: 'The scheme is fantastically beneficial, the children love it. They are keen to read and are always saying how much it is helping. They've also become more confident, after developing such good relationships with the volunteers.'

Mary and Sukhi are glad they set up the new company which has the same aims as The News' Spread the Word campaign, a year-long drive to encourage more reading among children.

'We could see the value in the scheme. So many children are not reaching their full potential. One in five leave primary school without being able to read properly, which means they struggle with the curriculum when they start at secondary,' said Mary.

Volunteer Reading Help donated books and games to the scheme, to help get them started and Portsmouth City Council have given an 8,000 grant, meeting the company's set up costs.

Read for Life has 17 volunteers helping 51 local children. Volun-teers are trained and undergo enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks, before attending sessions twice a week at schools.

Each school is provided with a Book Box containing fun books and games. Volunteers usually work with children for a year, building a relationship with the child, giving them the one to one support that Mary and Sukhi have seen to make a difference.

'Volunteers work with three children in individual half-hour sessions. In addition to reading, they talk to the children, play games and gradually develop their confidence.

Read for Life is recruiting volunteers to place in schools around the area for one and a half hour sessions twice a week.

Anyone interested in volunteering or wanting further details can call (023) 9266 0083.