The Social Value of Get Into Reading

From Jennifer Jarman, People and Support Administrator

Great news! The Reader Organisation is improving the lives of people on the Wirral in real, measurable terms – and now we’ve got the report to prove it.

Earlier this year Gayle Whelan, a Research Assistant for the Applied Health and Wellbeing Partnership at Liverpool John Moores University, conducted a Social Return on Investment (SROI) report on our Wirral Get into Reading groups. Her report has given us a fantastic opportunity to review what we can offer to local communities and councils, and has shown that we currently bring an average ‘social return’ of £6.47 for every £1 spent.

This means that for every £1 that we spend on delivering Get into Reading groups, our beneficiaries experience an improvement to their health and wellbeing worth the equivalent of £6.47. This improvement may be felt in terms of better health, increased confidence or simply having the opportunity to meet new people and try new things – all those outcomes that The Reader Organisation aims to bring about, but can find incredibly hard to measure!

MRL_5280Gayle focused on three of our Wirral groups: Wallasey Library (an open group), Arch Initiatives (for recovering addicts) and our one-to-one sessions with looked-after children. The open group generated an SROI average of £6.38, Arch Initiatives £6.04 and our work with looked-after children an impressive £7 per £1 of investment. These figures demonstrate that our shared reading model is making substantial differences to beneficiaries across all sectors of the Wirral community – and, in the future, will enable us to approach funders and commissioning bodies with the numbers to back up those impact stories that we currently tell through case studies and group members’ feedback.

So what is SROI, and how is it possible for researchers to measure those ‘immeasurable’ benefits that shared reading can bring?

SROI is all about assigning financial equivalents, or ‘proxies’, to those improvements that social enterprises and charities mobilise through their work. It can involve asking beneficiaries directly what value they would put upon the changes they have experienced, or looking at the financial consequences of those changes (for example, the cost of cinema tickets for an outing with a new friend). SROI researchers also use standardised SROI financial proxies to inform their figures; the cost of three years’ tuition fees, for example, was employed in this report as a proxy value for any looked-after child expressing a new-found aspiration to go to university, and an apprentice’s annual wages for any who had, through engagement with TRO, developed an interest in pursuing a career.

It might seem a bit strange for an organisation with such a people-centric approach as The Reader Organisation suddenly to be representing our activities in terms of ‘hard cash’ profit, but it’s a very important step in enabling us to secure future financial backing. Following the introduction of Public Services (Social Value) Act in 2012, local authorities are legally required to show that their investments will bring economic, social and environmental wellbeing to the local area. Our newly-calculated SROI figures will therefore serve as a powerful tool in future development, proving to our commissioners that what we do really does work and has the potential to make a genuine impact on the lives of those that their funding is trying to reach.

In the meantime, this report shows us that The Reader Organisation is making the Wirral a happier, healthier place to be. For many of those we work with and alongside (group members and facilitators alike), I’m sure that this knowledge alone points to something we would understand as ‘priceless’.

Click here to read the full report: An evaluation of the social value of the Get into Reading initiative in Wirral, Merseyside

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