A history of Bookstart

Starting life as a small pilot project 25 years ago, Bookstart developed to become the world’s first national bookgifting programme and continues to go from strength to strength. Take a look at our potted history of BookTrust's flagship early years programme.

Bookstart bear and boy NBW 2016

1992: Piloting Bookstart and early findings

BookTrust ran a pilot project involving 300 babies, with support from Birmingham University and local library and health services. Research found that Bookstart children began school with clear advantages and higher attainment in pre-school assessments.

1992-1998: Early days

In light of the research, the importance of book-sharing was increasingly recognised and 60 more pilot projects were developed, often using European Social Regeneration Budget funding and targeting deprived areas.

1999-2000: Support from Sainsbury’s

Following 1998's National Year of Reading, Sainsbury's were looking for a Millennium children’s learning project that would leave a legacy for the 21st century. Being chosen allowed Bookstart to develop nationally.

1999-2000: Local services get on board

By 1999, most local authorities were eager to participate, with a member of library staff becoming ‘Bookstart Coordinator’ for their area. This enthusiasm, along with Sainsbury’s support, meant that by March 2000, 92% of local authorities had joined Bookstart and it became the world’s first national bookgifting programme.

Coordinator reading with child at NBW 2016

2000-2004: New partnerships and packs

The Department for Education supported the search for funding in 2000-01 and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport underpinned the programme in 2001-02 and 2003-04. During this time, BookTrust developed partnerships with children’s publishers and started to produce Bookstart packs at a nominal cost.

2004-05: Universally speaking

Government funding extended the Bookstart scheme to enable free books to be gifted to every child at two key stages: babies and toddlers. There was resounding approval from children's publishers, who contracted to support Bookstart for a further three years.

2005-present: Bookstart today - a public/private partnership to promote reading for pleasure

Today, the UK Government, via Arts Council England, fund BookTrust’s Bookstart programmes. With ongoing support from the children’s book sector, BookTrust continues to deliver universal programmes to babies and toddlers nationally, made possible by tireless support from Bookstart Coordinators, as well as library, health and early years professionals.

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