BEST-SELLING author David Walliams has sent a message of congratulations to a North-East schoolgirl who was a winner in a children’s writing competition.

Nine-year-old Alisha Nelson, of the Lakes Primary School, in Redcar, was the winner of the primary section of the ‘Little Did I Know’ competition, organised by Darlington Building Society.

The secondary schools’ winner was Sally Sheridan, 13, of All Saints Academy, in Ingleby Barwick.

Both girls won their own height in books, plus £500 for their schools to spend on books or other literacy equipment.

Alisha, whose winning story was called “The Magic of a Good Book”, was so excited she wrote to David Walliams to tell him about her success and received a letter back, congratulating her and urging her to carry on writing.

“I love reading books and writing stories, so it was really nice to get a reply from someone like David Walliams,” said Alisha.

The competition, supported by The Northern Echo, attracted more than 300 entries, with three finalists chosen in each category.

Due to the lockdown, a virtual grand final was held, with the finalists reading their stories online. The winners were then chosen by professional authors Adam Bushnell, Liz Million and Jessica Shepherd.

Again, due to the pandemic, the prize-giving presentations had to be postponed but they have now taken place following the reopening of schools.

Janet Madden, head teacher at Lakes Primary School, said: “It’s wonderful that an organisation like Darlington Building Society encourages literacy by running a story-writing competition.

“We challenge our pupils to read a million words a year, and we use every opportunity we can to encourage them to write stories. This competition gave us a real purpose to get them writing, and Alisha did so well.”

Sally’s winning entry was a moving story about homelessness, entitled “Random Acts of Kindness”.

She said: “I’d like to be a doctor or dentist, but I’ll always carry on writing on the side.”

The £500 prize couldn’t be better timed because All Saints Academy is establishing a new library in a repurposed human resources centre at the school.

Associate Deputy Head, Caroline Buchan, said: “Sally’s story was so empathetic, and we are really proud of her.”

The school is now establishing a team of “reader leaders” to choose themes for the new library each term, with Sally heading up the group.

Darlington Building Society also supported a local business by buying all the books for the prizes from Guisborough Bookshop.

Darlington Building Society chief executive Andrew Craddock said: “Despite these difficult times, we were delighted to be able to go ahead with this fun and educational competition, and it’s lovely to hear how the winning schools will put the prize-money to such good use.”