BookTrust’s impact in Brent: "There are many families with no awareness of libraries. Targeted outreach is needed"

Published on: 16 February 2024

Sarah Smith, Libraries Development Manager for the London Borough of Brent, highlights the need for sustained investment in children's early years reading – and the vital work happening in partnership with BookTrust.

Sarah Smith giving a speech at BookTrust's Reading Together launch

On being a "reluctant reader graduate"

"I was once a reluctant reader. This was despite being the child of avid readers and library users. I remember my mother, a looked-after child from a mixed-race family in South Shields, reading poetry to my sister and I on a green couch.

"Now, I am a reluctant reader graduate, who travels almost everywhere with a book. A committed auntie, great aunt and godmother, who has showered the next generations with picture books and novels.

"I turned a corner. But the picture I will paint is how important it is to ensure all children get the best reading experience. And it starts even before we welcome them into the war-torn, complex world we live in today."

Raising attainment in Brent through library outreach

Sarah Smith giving a speech at BookTrust's Reading Together launch

"Brent has one of the highest poverty levels in London, so it's a challenging borough to live in. Economic inactivity exceeds the national average. 45% of Brent residents were born outside the UK, and 50% speak English as an additional language. This, along with the level of local deprivation, has an impact on educational performance and outcomes for children. But Brent Libraries and indeed Brent Council are committed to raising attainment.

"We are very conscious that there are still many families with no awareness of libraries or early years support, such as family and wellbeing hubs. Targeted outreach is needed."

Three ways Brent Libraries and BookTrust work together

Sarah Smith speaking to BookTrust staff at the Reading Together launch

1. Early years reading support for families who are missing out

"We have used the targeted BookTrust early years strategy for families most in need. We partnered with Brent Council's Early Years team to combine gifting the BookTrust packs with storytelling sessions. This now happens at eight family wellbeing hubs, to improve the take-up of the book packs.

"It also encourages families to explore the local early years services available to them, as well as library membership and book borrowing. The focus is to show families that sharing stories is important to a child's learning and development - but also how much fun it can be."

2. Supporting refugee families to read together

"In Brent, we have more than 1,000 refugees residing in three hotels in Wembley, mainly from the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, as well as African and South American countries. We have expanded our outreach work to the local refugee community, and the BookTrust dual language books offer a real source of support for this.

"The books have been a great way of engaging with parents - there was a rush of interest and appreciation. Our aim this year is to begin delivering regular outreach story time sessions that support refugee children, parents and carers alike to heal from the trauma they've experienced."

3. Boosting children's library membership

"This year, we ran BookTrust Storytime in five of our six libraries. We have now branded our sessions for children under five as "BookTrust Story and Rhyme Times". This is because we want to sow the seeds so that families have a long-term association with BookTrust and its programmes.

"Now, our sessions in Brent's two largest libraries attract more than 50 children aged five and under and their carers each week. We have also increased library membership amongst children under five by 25% after the pandemic."

Final words from Sarah on Reading Together

Sarah Smith giving a speech at BookTrust's Reading Together launch

"My message is clear. All children should enjoy a magical reading journey. They should all get to share stories with loved ones as they move towards becoming confident readers themselves.

"Reading together provides physical closeness, enjoyment and interaction. It supports and nourishes us at different stages in our lives. Nothing beats a good story. It feeds our imaginations. It brings us joy and empathy.

"BookTrust supports this ethos and has made a difference to so many lives – both children and adults. The charity is an important necessity. Speaking on behalf of libraries around the UK, we value and appreciate BookTrust's ongoing programmes, and its exciting, focused commitment to making a difference in today's and tomorrow's children."

Reading Together

Reading Together, Changing Children's Lives is based on decades of experience of working with millions of families and thousands of local partners, including health visitors, nurseries, schools, libraries and food banks.

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