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A new chapter for Canterbury's little learners
Bradford’s Canterbury estate is a long way from the hills of East Tennessee, but a pioneering book-gifting scheme is boosting pre-school literacy levels both sides of the Atlantic.
Back in 1996, American country singer Dolly Parton launched a project called Imagine Library to foster a love of reading among under-fives and their families by providing them with a free book each month. Her aim was to ignite children’s excitement about books, and ensure that they grew up in a home with books.
Dolly’s Imagination Library expanded from a few dozen books posted to children in East Tennessee, where she grew up, to 40 million books mailed to children throughout America, Canada and the UK.
Britain’s first Imagination Library scheme was set up in Rotherham in 2008, and this week sees the launch of the scheme on Bradford’s Canterbury estate – the first of its kind in West Yorkshire.
With low literacy levels said to lead to poor language skills in young children, and slow educational progress among teenagers, the aim is to boost reading from an early age.
Canterbury Imagine Library Bradford – affiliated to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library – will be launched on Friday, when the first free books will be handed out. Parents on the estate with babies born this year will be invited to register for the scheme, ensuring that their child receives a free book through the post every month until their fifth birthday. The idea is to build up their own ‘library’, enhancing literacy and life chances.
– Stuart Hicks, managing director of property consultants Dunlop HeywoodThere’s a huge amount of evidence that shows literacy skills enhance educational and job prospects, but they also underpin strong family relationships and bonds
The Lord Mayor of Bradford, Councillor Dale Smith , will attend Friday’s launch party, at Canterbury Children’s Centre from 1pm, and present £1,000 from his mayoral appeal.
Canterbury Imagine already has 24 children receiving books, following a test registration over the summer, and the project is now being extended across the estate.
Organiser Jan Winter says the aim is to reach about 1,300 under-fives in the Canterbury area within five years.
“The children should be able to build up their own library of quality books, which will help to foster a love of reading and to encourage children’s literacy to improve even before they start school,” she says.
“Our priority now is asking businesses to sponsor a group of children over three or more years, so this can really be a sustainable project which reaches every child in the Canterbury area.
“Sponsorship of £2,500 a year provides a book each month delivered through the letterbox for 100 children, or just £250 provides for ten children.”
Jan is inspired by the Rotherham scheme, which has led to higher communication skills among children entering school, compared with youngsters who hadn’t received the books.
“They have done lots of research and found that children going into school at five who were part of the Imagination Library have assessment scores on communication skills of more than five points higher than those who weren’t involved in the scheme, which shows a measurable benefit,” says Jan.
The scheme has received £500 from the Little Horton Community Development Fund, and businessman Stuart Hicks, who started his working life on Canterbury estate, is offering a donation of £5 for every new follower to Twitter account @dunlopheywood in September and October.
Stuart, owner and managing director of property consultants Dunlop Heywood, started out as a chartered surveyor on the estate in the early 1990s. Since hearing about Canterbury Imagine, the father-of-two has been working with Jan in setting up the scheme and helping to attract further corporate sponsorship.
“There’s a huge amount of evidence that shows literacy skills enhance educational and job prospects, but they also underpin strong family relationships and bonds,” says Stuart.
“I have two young girls of my own and I think every child should have the same chances and choices in life, no matter where they live or which community they belong to.
“Canterbury Imagine is a fantastic scheme that costs just £2 per month per child. It has already been proven to make a real difference to children who take part.”
- For more information, or to sponsor books for a group of children, visit canterburyimagine.co.uk or e-mail Jan at firstname.lastname@example.org .