Meet Rich Smith, the author behind our award-winning book When I Grow Up
This week is National Storytelling Week, a time to celebrate how storytelling can enrich everybody’s lives, no matter their age.
In recognition of the annual event, we speak to Rich Smith, business development director at nmcn and author of our award-winning book When I Grow Up. We ask him what inspired him to write the book, his proudest achievements, and his future plans for characters Harry and Amy…
Q: Rich, why did you decide to write When I Grow Up?
A: There’s a big crisis facing the construction industry – a skills shortage, which could be incredibly damaging to our sector if we don’t do something about it. One of the goals of nmcn’s Positive Impact Plan is to engage with at least 5,000 children by 2025 and do our bit to help overcome this.
One of the biggest challenges we face is that people don’t fully understand the vast job opportunities that our sector offers. There is also a stereotype that it’s a male dominated industry.
We wanted to address these issues in a fun yet engaging way and inspire children as young as possible, before they’ve even decided or thought about what they want to do for a career. This is how When I Grow Up (WIGU) was born.
Q: Tell us more about the book…
A: WIGU is aimed at 4–7-year-olds and follows twins Harry and Amy, who are considering their future jobs at their school’s careers day competition. It covers a range of engineering activities and demonstrates to children that, without the hard work of those in the construction industry, many other critical roles would not be made possible. We used examples of jobs that children could easily relate to such as the police, fire service, schools etc, and highlighted the importance of building hospitals for them to work in, roads to drive on, and making electricity available. Our goal is to make construction just as attractive as these other jobs and I think we succeeded!
Q: Where did you get your inspiration from?
A: We set our target really high – to engage with at least 5,000 children by 2025. To achieve this, we knew we had to do something a bit different.
I’m a dad of two young children aged 6 and 3, they both love stories so I read to them every day. This definitely helped me gain lots of knowledge of children’s books. They love anything that rhymes as it really captures their imagination, so that was incorporated into the book.
It was so much fun to write as it’s so different to my normal day to day role. It was a great feeling when I could read WIGU to my children and see how much they enjoyed the book.
Q: Who did you work with to create the book?
A: One of the great things about the book is that it was developed in house by a small team at nmcn, with support from our valued supply chain partners.
Stuart, our design partner, created the illustrations which really brought the book to life with a diverse set of relatable characters. Tony from local printing company Sherwood Universal handled all the printing of the books.
We wanted to ensure WIGU was accessible to everyone, so we created a narrated animated video of the book. For children with hearing impairments, we created our first ever video with sign language and used our 20-year-old apprentice estimator Adam Scattergood, who has been profoundly deaf since birth, to provide the sign language.
We also gained input from qualified teachers throughout its creation, to ensure the content appealed to the target audience and fit in with the existing Key Stage 1 curriculum.
Q: How popular has the book been?
A: The response to the book has been overwhelming. We’ve had direct requests for copies of the book from across the UK and internationally, our furthest being Australia!
We’ve reached nearly 3,000 children through the books sent to schools and individuals, and our animated versions of the book have received more than 16,000 views on YouTube which is continually rising.
We were delighted to receive supportive comments from industry influencers – including celebrity architect George Clarke and DIY SOS star Billy Byrne. Three UK literacy charities have also praised the book and WIGU became part of the National Literacy Trust’s Words for Work: Dream Big programme as a resource to introduce career options to children.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: The book has brought so many proud and ‘pinch me’ moments! We’ve won two international awards – a MUSE creative award and a NYX Marcom award as well as a Construction Marketing Award. Winners at the MUSE awards included global household names such as Disney, BMW, Universal Pictures and Spotify – to have our name up there with them was an incredible achievement.
I’m also really proud of the reach of the book – having more than 16,000 views of our animated video is great and shows there is a real appetite for this type of thing.
Q: Did you face any challenges along the way?
A: We launched WIGU in March last year, just a couple of weeks before the first national lockdown. We had lots of plans in place including for our staff members to go into their local schools and read the book to classes, but of course the restrictions meant that it couldn’t happen.
We took a more virtual approach to support children in new ways, with activity sheets and digital resources provided for children and parents to access from home, supported by the narrated video. Members of our team are also planning to read the book virtually to schools when they can.
In the future, when it is safe to do so, we would love to visit schools in person and share the story with children.
Q: Will we see Amy and Harry again in the future?
A: Yes, definitely. You haven’t seen the last of Harry and Amy! Our goal is for Harry and Amy to become well known characters to children up and down the country – we are aiming high.
We’re still working hard to reach as many children as possible and have lots of visions for WIGU in 2021. We want to have more focus on different roles within the construction industry. Our aim is to get children saying ‘I want to be a ‘quantity surveyor’ or ‘site manager’ rather than ‘I want to work in construction’.
Since we launched the book, Harry and Amy have been involved in new adventures to support virtual engagement around key dates (Child Safety Week and Drowning Prevention Week) for home schooling activities.
They have also been used on safety hoarding around an nmcn site, with the messaging ‘Save Energy, Save Water, Save the Environment, Together we can have a Positive Impact’. It is hoped this will inspire and encourage young people to have a positive impact on the environment.
As inspiring the next generation is a key focus for our business, Harry and Amy will play a big part in achieving this goal, keep an eye on our website and social media channels to follow their next adventure…
National Storytelling Week is organised by the Society for Storytelling and is celebrated by people of all ages in storytelling clubs, theatres, museums, schools, hospitals, spoken word venues and care homes.
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