The charity Reading Force aims to help 1,000 military families stay closer this Christmas holiday by giving children and deployed parents stories to share…

The Ministry of Defence estimates 11,000 Service personnel will be deployed over the Christmas period, meaning many families will be separated. Serving personnel will be continuing the fight against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, taking part in UN peacekeeping activity in South Sudan and maintaining a reassuring presence in the Falklands, to mention just a few key missions this December.

Reading Force aims to help families keep close by giving children stories to read and talk about with their absent parent during phone and video calls that can otherwise feel awkward. The charity is inviting Forces families to request books and spread the word to the wider community to encourage donations to help the charity continue its work keeping families close and connected.

Alison Baverstock, Army wife for nearly 30 years, mother of four, and founder of Reading Force, said: “I know from my own experience what it feels like to say goodbye to a partner and parent who’s in the Forces, especially when you know they’ll be away for Christmas. Precious calls home can become high pressure with everyone wanting them to be loving and positive. Children – and many adults – can clam up.

“But sharing what you’ve been reading and what you all thought about the book is a really simple and effective way to break the ice and get conversations flowing. Stories often provide great opportunities for fun and being silly together and that can help soothe the sense of separation. Stay close and connected and join Reading Force this Christmas by requesting a book and scrapbook for your children, or, if you feel able, make a donation.”

Forces families face many challenges including frequent moves of home and school, children having to say goodbye to friends and extended family, as well as the emotional strain of having a parent working in a war zone. Sian La-Borde and daughter Amelie, 4, are preparing for their first Christmas since Amelie was born without husband and father, Ryan. Ryan is on a four-month deployment to the Falklands. Sian said:

“Amelie loves reading and so sharing stories and thoughts about stories with daddy over Facetime is brilliant. We usually get three 10-minute calls a week but factor in the time difference and the attention span of a child and Ryan can easily spend the call looking at the back of Amelie’s head if she’s tired and not particularly engaged. We plan to use the Reading Force story and scrapbook to give her and Ryan something special to share this Christmas.”

Reading Force aims to help at least 1,000 Forces families separated this Christmas via a Crowdfunder campaign to raise £4,000. This would allow the charity to post out story books and colourful scrapbooks for children and their whole family to get involved with by sharing thoughts, notes, letters, drawings and photographs.

The shared nature of the scrapbook activities help families feel close even after phone and video calls have ended. The scrapbooks often become precious family mementos.