The Childrens Book Project Book Blast Presents

The Childrens Book Project Spotlight feature bookblast diary

The work of the charity, The Childrens Book Project, is heartwarming, inspiring and innovative: it is dedicated to helping children build a personal book collection of their own at home. This is a ground breaking approach to promoting literacy across the UK.

I often walk past the door of The Children’s Book Project in Golborne Road beneath the iconic Trellik Tower near BookBlast’s office, and despite my interest in local organisations that work with young people and children, I’m largely ignorant of who some of them are and what they do. So I decided to find out. The result is this interview with one of their volunteers, Alexis Antonatos, and the founder of the Children’s Book Project, Liberty Venn.

What is the Children’s Book Project?
The Children’s Book Project is a registered charity which works across the UK to redistribute and gift thousands of ‘gently used’ preloved books to children and their families to build a personal book collection of their own at home.

The founder, Liberty Venn, was doing charity impact evaluation research, working with children’s literacy and sports charities, including the Reading Agency and Youth Sport Trust, when she was asked to do some market research for Booktrust.

At the time, her children – now age eighteen and sixteen – were at Barlby Primary School. Their favourite authors were Simon Bartram and Alexis Deacon. Having discovered the power of bookThe Childrens Book Project logo 1 ownership in children’s lives, Liberty decided to arrange an impactful gifting event within her children’s own school, and the idea for The Children’s Book Project germinated from there.

The Children’s Book Project has grown gradually from one donor school in the borough to across London and beyond, and became an official charity in 2019. It is slowly expanding and now collaborates with schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

How does it work?
The children build up their own little book collection at home for free – they are not expected to contribute financially in any way, or to fund raise. The donor schools give books absolutely free to The Children’s Book Project that are then sorted and distributed to different places.

the childrens book project discovery programmeThe main focus of The Children’s Book Project is The Discovery Programme across Greater London, working with ninety-four primary schools and each child is gifted six books per year. On average 54% of the families supported across these schools live in challenging circumstances and are far less likely to be able to purchase books.

The idea is to make it fun and put book huts in the classroom, or in the playground, and the children can go in and choose a book. They are not told what to do, but are allowed to choose the book they want, take it home, and do what they like with it.

For a child who is not interested in reading they are free to choose, and in this way their teachers and family can find out what they are interested in. The child discovers reading for pleasure rather than having to read for school.

There is also the prisons programme: the charity works with fourteen prisons. Keeping family links reduces reoffending by 40%. There are two strategies: paired gifting when both the parent and their child each get a copy and can read it together over the phone, or in lots of prisons today there are family days. So a bookshop is set up on family day and the children can choose a book to then read with their parent(s).

Another focus is women and toddlers’ groups in women’s shelters and refugee centres, or  wherever the charity can get books to children from deprived backgrounds.

On top of that, The Children’s Book Project has two hubs trying to build up locally outside London, in Birmingham and Leeds.

The map on the website has all the schools that have requested to receive books highlighted, so parents who are local can deliver books directly to that school.

Where are your ‘gently used’ preloved books sourced from?
The Childrens Book Project pop up hutThere are various hubs around London where people can drop off books. The charity’s vans then pick up the donations and drop them off in Golborne Road to be sorted, and the categorized books are then taken from Golborne Road to deliver to schools twice a week. The charity was gifted a van with its logo on it for deliveries, bringing a smile to everyone. By getting preloved books donated the charity gets a wide range of books coming in.

Community centres are a key source of books and they run book drives. The charity has relationships with lots of independent schools who also often run book drives to get donations. Books are collected that children are no longer reading having grown out of them. Sustainability is an integral part of the charity’s values.

World Book Day is a crucial source of books. Publishers like Bonnier are major contributors. This Easter term Bonnier gifted 18,000 books to The Children’s Book Project. Two of the charity’s volunteers work with publishers to find opportunities.

The charity also has special relationships with the corporate sector, for example Abel & Cole the sustainable online grocer, and Wates the building contractors. They leave out crates or boxes into which people can deposit books. It has also done book drives with independent bookshops across the South East, and has just launched with Asda where people can drop off books when they go shopping, and eleven schools around Birmingham and Leeds.  The charity also works with sports clubs, for example football – clubs like Brentford, Aston Villa, QPR, Fulham collecting on match day – and amateur rugby clubs.

What is your process once books are donated and delivered to HQ in Golborne Road, before being sent back out for gifting?
Volunteers sort out the books which are categorized according to age – the focus is mainly primary school. They are delivered to the basement in Golborne Road and are then brought up to the ground floor to be sorted out and boxed up.

The Childrens Book Project categorisationsFirst off there are the baby board books – the Felix Project, the London charity fighting hunger, has recently joined in to help support distribution to community groups across London. Then there are the picture books that are read by an adult to a child. And phonic reading books for early readers, and the Oxford Reading Tree; Horrid Henry is popular. The next level is Roald Dahl, David Walliams, Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates. At the end of primary it’s Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Alex Rider and Lemony Snicket. Then come teen or secondary school reads by Neil Gaiman or Emily Brontë, so the charity is now working with a few secondary schools.

Poetry by Michael Rosen is in the non fiction section which also includes joke books, annuals like the Guinness World Records, the Horrible Histories, hobbies and activity books like Where’s Wally? and books about the dinosaurs. 

Though text books and dictionaries are excluded, as the whole idea is for books to be fun.

What about feedback and results?
The charity runs a survey at the end of each school term, asking teachers how it is working for them, or what could be improved. The children are asked a few questions too, and hands go up!

The Children’s Book Project also helps in that children know what they want and might go into their local library, looking for good reads. And as parents are not always too happy with their literacy, to read with their child increases their literacy too.

What is the charity’s funding situation? 
Funding largely comes from corporate donations and various trusts. Grant writers help with the grant applications. Overheads are kept low. Corporate donations cover the costs of running the building and, RBKC Council worked with the charity to find a place where it can be at the heart of the community by making use of an unused space. The charity is also a partner with Schumacher Packaging.

Online fund-raising includes The Big Give online match funding campaign, and a Just Giving page. A fiver can be donated by texting a special number. This year the charity will have fifty runners in the Royal Parks Half Marathon.

The Childrens Book Project volunteersNobody is a full-time employee though one or two volunteers might work a couple of days a week. Corporate volunteers help sort and pack three days a week alongside local volunteers, and do the bulk of the work.

Accolades and Recognition
Receiving the Queen’s Award in 2020 was a badge of honour – the kind of validation that gives the corporate sector confidence that The Children’s Book Project is a bona fide serious organization. It is also helpful for grant applications.

The work of the charity has been featured on BBC Radio London and Heart Radio’s breakfast show broadcast on World Book Day, as well as on BBC TV’s ‘One Show’.

The Children’s Book Project gifted 300,000 books across London and the UK last year, and is looking to get 350,000 books out this year.

BookBlast has promoted The Children’s Bookshow, based in Kensal Rise, since 2016, including an interview with the founder, Siân Williams, providing firsthand insights into the impact of her work. It is a charity that inspires school children with a love of reading through an annual programme of in-theatre and digital performances and in-school workshops with the best authors and illustrators from around the world. A podcast interview with Siân Williams is due to go out marking the end of half term in late May-early June.

So it is a joy to have discovered a new group of passionate local people with a shared purpose, collaborating as a catalyst for positive change, and bringing value to the community while creating a better future for children in a world of upheaval and uncertainty.

The achievement of The Children’s Book Project is the kind of good news we all want to know about. ‘Every little helps’ as the jingle goes . . . So please go for it, help them grow, and donate!

JUST GIVING

ROYAL PARKS HALF MARATHON

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About Georgia de Chamberet 381 Articles
Bilingual editor, rewriter, anthologist, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.

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