Fresh from his free school meals victory, the footballer-activist now has a new goal

His campaign to extend free meals over the school holidays caused the government to make two historic U-turns - ultimately agreeing to provide almost £4 million to support poor families with food and bills for the next 12 months - and inspired the nation to help feed vulnerable children. 

Now footballer and child poverty activist Marcus Rashford, one of several Mancunians awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2020, has a new goal in mind…helping all children access the ‘escapism of reading’ via a new book club.

2020 11 17 Marcus Rashford By Akse P19
Rashford was recently depicted by street artist Akse P19

The Manchester United player has partnered with Macmillan Children's Books (MCB) to promote reading and literacy to children across all socio-economic backgrounds, adding his own family couldn’t afford to buy books during his childhood. 

"I only started reading at 17, and it completely changed my outlook and mentality. I just wish I was offered the opportunity to really engage with reading more as a child, but books were never a thing we could budget for as a family when we needed to put food on the table.”

YOU ARE A CHAMPION: Unlock Your Potential, Find Your Voice And Be The BEST You Can Be will be the first title of the partnership, to be published in May next year. The illustrated non-fiction title, aimed at 11 to 16-year-olds, will be co-created by The Atlantic journalist Carl Anka and performance psychologist Katie Warriner; featuring chapters that incorporate Rashford's own life story and look at the value of education, positivity, female role models and understanding culture. Two more titles will follow in 2021 and 2022. 

Rashford added: "There were times where the escapism of reading could have really helped me. I want this escapism for all children. Not just those that can afford it. 

"We know there are over 380,000 children across the UK today that have never owned a book, children that are in vulnerable environments. That has to change.

"My books are, and always will be, for every child, even if I have to deliver them myself. We will reach them."

170801 Child Reading
380,000 children in the UK have never owned a book

While child poverty certainly isn’t new, it’s sadly one of the many issues that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic; the impact of furlough, job losses and balancing childcare is particularly acute for low-income families and support structures have been challenged in turn.

Wood Street Mission, a Manchester and Salford charity that has been supporting families for over 150 years, is just one example. Not even during world wars and recessions has the Mission failed to fulfil its Christmas appeal - which ensures that every child, no matter what their circumstances, wakes up on Christmas day with something special to open.

However the COVID-19 crisis threw the project into doubt for the first time this year, as social-distancing guidelines and limited space at its usual premise meant the charity was unable to house the amount of people and donations necessary. Fortunately Great Northern Warehouse has given them a temporary drop-off point on Deansgate Mews and the appeal is now well underway (find out how you can support it here).

2020 10 23 Wood Street Mission Xmas Gift Appeal
In 2019, Wood Street provided over 11,000 toys to 4000 children thanks to the generosity of local people, businesses and volunteers

As we reported in June, charities and community groups have also suffered huge income losses. Several funding streams have since been announced, bolstered by the generous donations from both businesses and individuals, but it remains a tenuous time - sadly impacting the help provided to vulnerable members of society just when they need it most. 

All of which makes the efforts of Marcus Rashford and his fellow philanthropists more vital than ever.

Want to help? Here are some other initiatives helping struggling families this winter…

Help fill a crate for Christmas

Wood Street Mission appeal isn’t the only local charity with an ambitious Christmas appeal. Mustard Tree, which tackles both the causes and consequences of poverty and homelessness, is asking groups to help fill food crates - after COVID-19 has seen its costs rise sixfold. Alternatively, you can show your support with a regular donation.

PS: If you want to drop off food as an individual, many supermarkets accept donations; Tesco, for example, currently has a festive appeal.

Donate your old hardware

Technology can be a vital tool in combatting isolation during lockdown - but not everyone has access. My Outsourced IT aims to provide a free computer in every home that needs it, along with offering support and classes to get the most out of the equipment, and is seeking hardware donations.

Buy a food bank book bundle

Salford-based publisher Saraband has come up with a unique approach to gifting this Christmas; its charitable bundle features a book and a donation to food bank charity The Trussell Trust, along with a handwritten note to the recipient advising a donation has been made in their name. Speaking of philanthropic literary initiatives, check out the Books to Nourish auction too (but hurry, it ends 22nd November).

Shop for some Christmas delights

Mellor Country House is a charity that has been changing lives since its inception at the end of the nineteenth century by providing much needed respite for disadvantaged families, carers, groups and individuals from areas in Stockport, Manchester and Salford. Its virtual market is open until 13th December; elsewhere you can also buy raffle tickets (until 5th) and Christmas trees.

PS: For more shopping inspiration, check out Barnado's online store - spanning 'Kidsmas' gifts to Gecko jewellery - and Lifeshare's shop (also online), which includes tees and prints from Manchester artists