A TEAM of community volunteers is helping to make sure a children’s story-writing competition can go ahead despite the coronavirus lockdown.

Darlington Building Society, with the support of The Northern Echo, launched its latest “Little Did I Know” challenge in November, following the success of an inaugural contest last year.

Youngsters with ambitions to be the next JK Rowling, or Roald Dahl, were invited to write their own 500-word story, starting with the phrase “Little Did I Know…”

The competition is divided into two age categories – primary and secondary – with the winners receiving their own height in books, plus £500 of literacy equipment for their schools.

The grand final was scheduled to be held, for the second year running, at Theatre Hulaballoo, in Darlington, with the finalists reading their stories in front of a judging panel made up of professional authors.

However, due to the lockdown, the event had to be cancelled and Darlington Building Society is now planning a “Virtual Grand Final”, with the help of the “Busy Readers” scheme run by Darlington Cares.

The scheme involves volunteers going into local schools to listen to children read – and now the Busy Readers are using their passion for books to help with the shortlisting process for the story-writing competition.

Around 300 entries have flooded in and a team of Busy Readers volunteers are now going through them at home to help produce the final six.

The finalists will then be asked to send in videos of themselves reading their stories so that the judges – established authors Liz Million, Adam Bushnell, and Jessica Shepherd – can choose a winner for each category.

One of the Busy Reader volunteers, Suzy Vaughan, who normally helps at Reid Street Primary School, said: “I’m really missing going into school, but I’m delighted to help out with the story-writing competition. It’s lovely to see the children’s imaginations coming to life – the stories I’ve chosen from my batch really made me feel as if I was there.”

Seth Pearson, Director of Darlington Cares, said: “The Busy Readers do such a wonderful job of supporting literacy in schools, so helping with the story-writing competition during the lockdown seemed a perfect opportunity to make the most of their experience and passion. We were only too pleased to help.”

Andrew Craddock, chief executive of Darlington Building Society, added: “We launched the competition before the coronavirus crisis, and we want to make sure that all the effort made by hundreds of budding young authors isn’t wasted.

“It was going to be a big logistical challenge to go ahead with a virtual competition, but having the Busy Readers on board has been invaluable.”

Details of the finalists and the virtual final will be announced soon.