Copper shines a Social Value Spotlight On…Chapter One to ask, do we need to look beyond the metrics to capture the true measure of social impact?

Measurements and metrics only tell half the story,’ says Sarah Taylor from Chapter One. ‘Our Online Reading Volunteer programme changes the course of children’s lives forever. How do we even begin to capture that?’

It’s a good question. And one that Copper put to a panel of experts at its inaugural Social Value Spotlight On… webinar for World Youth Skills Day.

Joining Sarah on the panel was Social Value Advisor Steve Fozard from National Highways and three of Chapter One’s corporate partners: Liz Waters from Sir Robert McAlpine, Stephen Hughes from GRAHAM and Cath Howard from Balfour Beatty Kilpatrick.

Measuring social impact

In fact, one in four 11-year-olds currently leaves school unable to read at the expected level. That’s where Chapter One’s Online Reading Volunteer programme comes in. It connects schools with corporate volunteers who read with the same child for 30 minutes every week for a whole academic year. Partners sponsor groups of 10 by donating £3,250 to the charity for each team.

Chapter One’s partners can see how many hours each team has volunteered on their dashboard. With such clear and quantifiable data, calculating a social return on investment (SROI) is simple and straightforward. But is it enough?

‘We use the nationally recognised TOMs (Themes, Outcomes and Measures).’ says Environmental Sustainability Manager Cath. ‘We calculate £16.93 per hour of volunteering with a school. A total of 25 sessions equates to 12.5 hours. That gives us an SROI of £2,116 per year. It’s a great number. But what we’re not capturing under our current systems is how children develop over time.’

Steve from National Highways agrees. ‘How do you measure a child’s desire to pick up a book for fun? It’s life-changing. And that’s unquantifiable.’

‘We need to capture the bigger impact on individuals and on society,’ adds Senior Social Value Manager Liz. ‘The ideal scenario would be to come back to see how a child has progressed in five or ten years’ time. The potential impact is massive and more long-term.’

Delivering tangible long-term benefits

Over the course of a year, children in the programme improve by an average of 3.9 reading levels. To capture the full story, however, we need to look further into the future. In one school, every single child in the first Chapter One cohort of Year 1 children went on to achieve their expected reading level for Key Stage 1 SATS at the end of Year 2.

Studies show that children who enjoy reading for pleasure at a young age are more likely to get better GCSE grades. This can boost their average lifetime earnings by as much as £57,500, which could raise the UK’s GDP by as much as £4.6 billion per year.

Of course, the long-term benefits to society are clear to see. But for Social Impact Business Partner Stephen, some of the biggest benefits are much closer to home.

Looking beyond the data

‘We also use TOMs as a way to measure social impact, but the numbers aren’t something we rely on solely.’ Stephen says. ‘Our employees gain so much from reading with the children. It can be the highlight of their week. We try to capture employee experiences through things like podcasts and blogs. We also celebrate positive feedback from parents and teachers.’

‘Value and impact are two different things.’ Says Liz. ‘We can measure value using data such as hours spent volunteering, and that’s important for reporting and work-winning. But impact is bigger than that. It’s about hearts and minds. At Sir Robert McAlpine, we talk to people taking part and capture their experiences through case studies. It’s about being creative in how we share those stories.’

Steve agrees that case studies are important for National Highways too, ‘By sharing case studies, we can share best practice across our supply chain partners. We want to encourage different organisations – some of whom are competitors in the industry – to work together to make a real difference in the community. Chapter One’s Online Reading Volunteer programme is a great example of how we can do that.’


It sounds like collaboration is key. Do our panellists agree?

‘Absolutely.’ Says Cath from Balfour Beatty Kilpatrick. ‘We partnered with Chapter One through our work with the Sellafield PPP (Programme and Partners Project). Together, we’ve supported over 100 primary school children in West Cumbria. By working together we’ve been able to have a much bigger impact.’

Volunteers don’t all have to be from the same organisation or in the same location. The groups of 10 can include members of the project team, the client, board members and the supply chain. It’s highly inclusive and assessable. And it’s great for team building.

So, what should people do if they want to sign up?

‘Go for it.’ says Stephen. ‘It’s massively rewarding and a great initiative to be part of.’

‘If you’re lucky enough to work for a company that’s already partnered with Chapter One, reach out to your social value coordinator to find out how to get involved,’ adds Cath.

You can also contact Sarah at Chapter One directly.

‘We have schools waiting for volunteers,’ says Sarah. ‘Please do get in touch. There are so many children we can help. If we work together we can make a real difference to children’s lives now and for many, many years to come.’

To listen to Copper Consultancy’s Social Value Spotlight On…Chapter One webinar in full, click on the link here: Chapter One Webinar: Exploring the true measure of social impact | Copper Consultancy (

For more information on Chapter One online reading volunteers, email or go to