PROVIDING children with strong male role models, such as local sporting heroes, is one of several steps proposed to improve literacy in Bradford.

Earlier this year a campaign to make Bradford a "literacy hub" was set up to improve the district's lower than average literacy levels, and those behind it have ambitious plans to get more children reading over the next three years of the project, which is a partnership of the National Literacy Trust and Bradford Council.

It will see links forged with Bradford City Football Club, Bradford Bulls and Yorkshire Cricket Club, with players acting as ambassadors to help encourage youngsters to pick up a book.

Three main areas of focus for the literacy campaign will be in the Eccleshill, Keighley Central and Toller wards, all areas identified as having high levels of literacy problems.

A hundred families of young children at risk of falling behind will be helped to improve the children's reading levels before they begin school, and work will be done involving children's centres and schools.

In these and many other areas of the city, experts say fathers do not always take an active part in their children's education, and so the aim is to both get them involved and to provide other male role models to take a role in their education.

The project will also bring a literacy link to local festivals and events, such as the newly launched Bradford Literature Festival and train male care volunteers to engage youngsters in reading.

Imran Hafeez, Bradford Literacy Hub Manager, said that people who do not speak English as their first language may be encouraged to get into reading and writing through their first language, with the hope that their love for reading will then spread to English texts.

The Saif-ul-Malook festival, based on the popular Punjabi text, held its inaugural event in September, and in future years will incorporate workshops with children, using the familiar text to improve their reading skills. Popular Slovak stories will similarly be used within the Eastern European communities.

Mr Hafeez, said it was important that the "champions" of this scheme came from within the communities, rather than a council officer telling people what to do.

He said: "The issue we have identified in some areas is that there aren't really male role models. In early years a lot of the teachers are women and sometimes fathers don't get as involved in school and reading. I don't know if its because some families still have ideas about traditional roles and fathers being the bread winner.

"There is an impact on children's attention when male carers are involved in telling them stories or reading with them.

"We want to train literacy champions to spread the message. Someone in a nice shirt and tie may not have the resonance as someone who lives in that community who is a familiar face and has come up through that community."

Boxer Tasif Khan and Bradford City striker James Hanson have already been involved, helping launch the literacy hub campaign in September.