Room to Read and Penny Lovell, FF&P

Date: 25 Jan 2008


Penny Lovell of FF&P, is known as an altruistic individual within wealth but has become more so with her appointment to the UK advisory board for Room to Read, a charity supported recently by STEP, who raised ¬£23,000 at a dinner in London, with Penny’s championing.

The founder of Room to Read, John Wood, who previously held a high ranking role at Microsoft and by his own admission was a committed workaholic, started the foundation after a trip to Nepal which opened his eyes to a different world. He visited a rural school where the only books were a Danielle Steel novel and a Lonely Planet guide, which were so precious they were locked in a cabinet. This was the closest thing to a library they had.

John’s heart and brain were so moved by this pitiful situation that he made a promise to return to the school with books, and began by emailing all of his friends and contacts asking for book donations. A year later Room to Read began. He threw in the towel at work and has since devoted his time to ensuring books will always be available throughout his foundation Room to Read.

As the charity has grown, John and his team have found more to do. They realised that the education of girls was limited because parents couldn’t afford to send all of their children to school and chose boys first. Neither could they buy books, which meant publishers weren’t motivated to publish children’s books in local languages. Room to Read found that adequate schools were often scarce in rural areas with children walking several hours each way to attend school. Many were ramshackle unsafe structures with overcrowded classrooms.

Their research also found that other countries were in need of Room to Read programmes, and the charity began to expand geographically. Room to Read now works in Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, South Africa and Zambia. The charity builds schools and libraries, offer scholarships to girls and publishes quality local language children’s books.

Louise Holmes who is the Development Director for Europe at Room to Read says, “We are trying to make what we do relevant and efficient. Room to Read operates like a business, with a strategic low overhead model. We employ teams of local staff, and require community co-investment to ensure the sustainability of our projects.”

Penny raises tens of thousands for Room to Read

Penny got involved because she hated the thought that females were being deprived of an education. “It galled me,” she says, “Boys and girls should be treated equally.”

But rather than be a supporter in name, which is easy to do, she rolled her sleeves up and got stuck in with some hard work. Penny supports Room to Read’s girls’ scholarship programme, and says she liked the idea that Room to Read worked with families as a whole with home visits and translators to help female education continue uninterrupted until age sixteen. The children get bikes, books and a mentor to help them graduate.

Penny organised an event which raised £70k; and nominated Room to Read as the charity partner of high profile events like the STEP Private Client Awards.
She took a trip to meet the girls who had been given scholarships and lived in the surrounding paddy fields. “Some of the route involved getting knee deep in mud,” says Penny and offers some photo’s from her phone to illustrate the point. “One family I met were crammed in one room and their mother had died. The girls were weaving baskets to sell to make ends meet. It made me very proud of the programme and what Room to Read were trying to achieve and really brought everything to life for me.”

Room to Read has gone from strength to strength and commentators for the foundation say it “is growing faster than Starbucks.” John Wood believes low overheads, monitoring programmes and evaluation of everything they do are the keys to their success.

Since 2000, Room to Read has built over 450 schools, established over 5,500 libraries and placed over 4,000 girls on long term scholarship. Room to Read has a turnover of $22million with over 250 staff and 3,000 volunteers working worldwide.

Louise Holmes
Development Director, Europe
+44 (0) 7966 426088
lholmes AT

Room to Read is UK Charity Number 1099405

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