Happy Birthday to the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation!

JALF TURNS FOUR!

Four years ago today, Foundation Co-founder Amanda Mortensen and I raised a glass of champagne as the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation website was launched and we were open for business! 

The date was not an accident. The 30th of October was the date that Jane Austen first became a published author - when her dream finally became a reality.

I had the enormous privilege of growing up at Chawton House on the ancestral estate where my 5th great aunt Jane Austen lived and wrote.  I shared the same walks and rooms as Jane, the same traditions, extensive family library and furniture – we even ate from the same Wedgwood dinner service!  I have been talking about Jane Austen for as long as I can remember as we welcomed thousands to our home every year for events and tea in the Chawton House tea room I helped Granny run throughout the summer.

 Chawton House.  Credit: Julia B. Grantham.

Chawton House. Credit: Julia B. Grantham.

My family left Chawton in 1988 when I was 18 years old. After 400 years, Chawton House could no longer be kept as our family home. It is now a public building open to visitors from around the world, keen to see Jane’s home and the Hampshire estate she found so inspirational.  I was determined to be independent and followed a career in business which eventually brought me to Australia in 2008. I never mentioned my childhood or connection with the world-famous author to my friends or colleagues.

The global interest in Jane Austen has become greater than any of us could ever imagine and in 2014, my dream was to go back to my roots and create a literacy foundation in great aunt Jane’s name and honour, to harness the worldwide passion for Jane Austen and improve literacy rates in developing communities. Literacy is fundamental for learning. Reading and writing empowers individuals to participate in society, achieve their dreams and to experience the joy of a good book. 

Four years later and the Foundation is flourishing. The first couple of years were spent establishing our charitable status, governance and infrastructure, building awareness and a community of passionate Janeites and book lovers who share a love of literacy. Our online journal, Pride & Possibilities, is enjoyed by readers around the world, thanks to our fantastic editor Emily Prince and the generous contributions from across the Jane Austen community.

Click the image below to read an update from our Pride & Possibilities editor, Emily Prince.

 
 

We have raised money for several projects, including funding literacy kits for temporary schools in Syria run by UNICEF.  We are three quarters of the way to reaching the target for our latest Literacy Libraries project – we are raising US$15,000 to buy e-readers and an e-library for Suhum MA Experimental C School in Ghana (in partnership with Worldreader). 

 Students in Ghana.  Credit: Worldreader

Students in Ghana. Credit: Worldreader

In 2018 the funds raised in Australia were used to double the size of the e-library accessed by children living in remote Indigenous communities participating in the Indigenous Reading Project.

 Students with their e-readers.  Credit: Indigenous Reading Project.

Students with their e-readers. Credit: Indigenous Reading Project.

The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation is run entirely by volunteers so that 100% of donations received is spent on literacy libraries.

Libraries are as important for literacy today as they were for Jane Austen two hundred years ago. Jane’s education, literacy and learning were supported by access to her father’s library when she was a young woman and the extensive family library at Chawton House later on - the same library that I used as a child.

In Jane Austen’s time, bookplates were a traditional way of marking the ownership of physical books and our family library includes bookplates from Thomas Knight (who gave George Austen the Rectorship of Steventon) and Jane’s brother, Edward Austen Knight (my fourth great grandfather). To raise money, we produce collectable decorative bookplates with your name in Jane Austen’s own hand-writing so you can label your library and support our Literacy Libraries Program.  All donors are thanked with their own Jane Austen Literacy Foundation bookplate.

Click the image below to read an update from our Bookplate Program Manager, Julia B. Grantham.

 
 

This year we have launched two exciting new volunteer programs. Our Literacy Mentors program makes writing ridiculously exciting and is for those who can spend a couple of hours online every month to provide encouragement and feedback to school students on their written work, in partnership with Pobble.

Click the image below to read an update from our Literacy Mentors Program Manager, Jacqueline Harris.

 
 

Our Literacy Ambassadors volunteer program is for those who wish to help promote the Foundation and help raise money for our Literacy Libraries program.

Click the image below to read an update from our Literacy Ambassadors Program Manager, Cassandra Grafton.

 
 

As well as launching our new programs, the highlight of this year was arguably Jane Austen Regency Week in Alton and Chawton in June. As well as attending lots of events and meeting so many Janeites and supporters, we completed our first Jane Austen Walk for Literacy and raised over £3,000!  A huge shout out to Sophie Andrews, aka Laughing with Lizzie, for being our star fundraiser.

 
 Our brilliant participants on the Jane Austen Walk for Literacy.  Credit: Tony Grant.

Our brilliant participants on the Jane Austen Walk for Literacy. Credit: Tony Grant.

 

I am delighted that the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation will be returning for Jane Austen Regency Week 2019 – we will be fundraising with the sponsored Jane Austen Walk for Literacy on Sunday the 23rd of June followed by a Regency picnic on the lawns of Chawton House – more details to come!  Amanda and I will be there from Thursday the 20th to Sunday the 30th of June and for the first weekend will be joined by the Foundation’s Program Managers and many of our Literacy Ambassadors and Literacy Mentors.

I would sincerely like to thank our committed and professional volunteers – the Board, our dozen Ambassadors, three Program Managers and journal Editor, fourteen Literacy Mentors, twelve Literacy Ambassadors – our charity partners Worldreader, the Indigenous Reading Project and Pobble, our supporters, our followers and the 318 donors who together have funded our Literacy Libraries program. I would also like to thank my family, particularly my parents Jeremy and Carol Knight, who have been extraordinarily supportive of this project.

This truly is a team effort and it is a pleasure to work with all of you to improve literacy rates in honour of Jane Austen.  

Caroline Jane Knight

Founder & Chair of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation

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