After lunch every Saturday afternoon, my father would take my brothers and me on our weekly pilgrimage to a beautiful early Edwardian redbrick building that housed East Ham library. We boys spent several hours sprawled on the floor, voraciously absorbing books on topics spanning from the Aztec Empire to Victorian engineering to the fiction of Roald Dahl. We would return home with a shopping trolley full of borrowed books, just in time for the BBC’s final football scores (and sometimes a disappointing West Ham result!)
When people meet me now, they often associate me with my exploits as captain of Emmanuel Cambridge’s team on University Challenge. However it was my years of being engrossed in books at East Ham library that had (unexpectedly) prepared me to square up to quizmaster Jeremy Paxman.
Since University Challenge, I have used my (unexpected) public platform as a school teacher to promote education and in particular numeracy (as national numeracy ambassador alongside Countdown’s Rachel Riley and Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis) and literacy.
Nick Poole, the CEO of CILIP (the UK library association) heard out about my powerful personal story with libraries and reached out to me to see if we could collab (as my school students might say). Following in the footsteps of previous incumbents of the role, Mary Beard and Stephen Fry, I was honoured to become CILIP’s libraries champion to use my voice to promote the cause.
Working with CILIP, The Big Issue and Lord Bird, in October we presented my 10-point Manifesto for Libraries at the House of Lords, pushing the case for long-term funding for libraries.
In our manifesto, we explained that with the UK having 35,000 libraries in 20 sectors from health to public libraries, prisons to schools, libraries change lives for the better every single day.