OVER 200 Bradford children have now ‘graduated’ from a book-gifting scheme – having received free books for the first five years of their lives.

Children in the Canterbury area of Bradford recently celebrated the fifth birthday of literacy charity Canterbury Imagine with a party.

Canterbury Imagine is inspired by Dolly Parton’s Imagine charity, which she set up to provide children in disadvantaged areas age specific books in their first few years of life.

The idea has spread across the world, and launched in the UK in 2007.

In Bradford, Jan Winter set up the Canterbury Imagine scheme in 2012 to help families on the Canterbury estate, one of the poorest areas of the city.

A total of 194 children in that area have had their fifth birthdays and received their final book, having built up their own ‘libraries’ of up to 60 new, age-appropriate books through the post every month, and Mrs Winter had a chance to tell the country singer about its successes when she met her after a concert in Leeds in 2014.

Canterbury Imagine aims to help to improve literacy, emotional development, educational attainment and life chances by providing a free book through the post every month from birth until the child’s fifth birthday. It also helps to support the children’s centres and families with literacy activities.

Next month, 808 children in Canterbury will receive a free book, funded by Canterbury Imagine, and another 158 in the Little Horton part of the catchment area will have books funded by Better Start Bradford, the Lottery-funded scheme set up after the success of Canterbury Imagine.

The charity also funds a scheme in the Midland Road area of Manningham, where 459 children will receive free books next month, and a scheme for Looked After Children, in the care of Bradford Council, will supply 196 books into foster homes.

More than 40,000 books have been delivered into Bradford children’s homes in the first five years of the charity’s work.

Mrs Winter said: “Our fifth birthday is a real landmark as so many children have received books since birth and have now have built up quite a collection of books at home.

“The children registered with our schemes in Bradford are already developing a love of books and reading which will help them to be ready for school and pay dividends in later life.

“Having books in the home is so important and enjoyable.

“We are seeking more funding to ensure this can continue and expand in the district.”

Among the visitors at the fifth birthday party was Bradford East MP Imran Hussain, and he and Jan discussed the importance of literacy and potential funding ideas.

The Deputy Lord Mayor or Bradford, Councillor Doreen Lee, also joined the party, as did Mike Martin, director at Bradford firm TL Dallas, who has supported Canterbury Imagine.

Canterbury Imagine is now appealing for business sponsorship and also for people interested in books, such as book groups, to pledge to give £2 a month through the charity’s website to sponsor a child’s reading.

For more information, visit canterburyimagine.co.uk.