Simon Berry: The Story of the Gilesgate Story Challenge
You may have seen in the press, but our member Simon Berry from Simon Berry Optometrists has released his very own short story book filled with stories written by children about wearing glasses. Simon launched the Gilesgate Story Challenge – a short story competition for local schools – with the aim of it being inclusive for all children. It was so successful, it’s turned into a book. Here is how the idea developed in his own words…
It started on World Book Day 2019. I wanted to do something to mark the occasion and we came up with the idea of running a book competition for the local schools. I know Tim Cole quite well from Heidelberg and Tim used to be an illustrator before he got sucked into Optics. I asked him if he would illustrate the winning story. We asked for stories related to eyes or vision, and to be a maximum of 2020 words long (the leaflet we sent out is below.)
We managed to get 8 schools involved and 70 entries. As you know, we see a lot of patients with learning disabilities and I really wanted to get them involved too (it was one of the reasons we didn’t specify an age range for the competition,) so I was particularly pleased that we had an entry for a story that was meant to be signed in Makaton.
We had three judges and shortlisted the entries. I also employed a type-setter who ended up doodling some images for the book too.
I managed to convince Waterstones Durham to stock the book (see here!) and pitched to them the idea that we arranged a book signing with the winning authors. We did this a few weekends ago and it was amazing! We were the top selling book in Waterstones that weekend.
There are so many amazing things about this book but there is one slightly depressing one that was picked up by the national press (the Sunday Express – see the article here.) In almost half of stories we received, the characters were bullied because of wearing glasses. This doesn’t mean that the authors have had first-hand experience in this bullying, but it does mean that this is what children think might happen. The story was also picked up by our Optical press.
And this is all for charity. I am paying for the printing and any money taken for the book will be given to charity. (Even Waterstones have agreed to do this.) I am a Trustee for a charity called Grace House. It is a short break and respite service for children with complex health problems. I am stepping down this year after 5 years as a Trustee so this is my last project for them.
AND my big grand plan is that this is only the beginning. I am hoping that we start this competition this year and then convince another local business to run it next year. Hopefully the competition will run from strength to strength.
The whole point of the project was to inspire children, and someone told me this yesterday which I think is amazing – one of the children with a learning disability got really into writing his story. It was the first story he has written BUT since then it has inspired him and he now writes them in his spare time and has written three or four follow-up stories!
To purchase the book for your practice or yourself, click here