Back in 2013, I was lying in hospital in Stoke-on-Trent recovering from spinal surgery when a visiting Rotarian friend left a copy of Rotary Today for me to read.
I read about the Dines Green Literacy Project which Worcester South Rotary had developed from the Literacy Reading Project that many Rotary clubs are involved with. This is where Rotarians go into schools to listen to children read.
Worcester South Rotary had discovered that children in the schools where they were working had very little access to books at home.
One of the teachers in the school asked her year 5 class “how many of you have bookshelves at home?” There were a lot of blank looks. Two out of 30 children put their hands up. So the Rotarians got some secondhand books, put them on a stand in the corner of the classroom and, within a few days, all the books had gone as the children had taken them home.
So yes, there was a definite need to supply books – and the need is huge. Further research showed that this rather depressing fact was not uncommon. International Literacy Day 2020 focused on this issue and highlighted the fact that one in eight disadvantaged children don’t own a single book.
The article was in the June 2013 edition of Rotary Today. I thought it was inspiring and something which I hoped we could develop locally in the Midlands.
As a former Group Study Exchange scholar to the Philippines in 2007, I am part of Rotary Alumni 1210, which draws together people who have previously experienced Rotary, perhaps through an exchange or scholarship programme.
Alumni 1210 is a great way of staying connected with Rotary – there are more than 100 Rotary Alumni associations around the world – and this was the driver for the Rotary Books4Home project.
It is a very easy project. It doesn’t cost a penny, it only takes time.”
Most of the 52 clubs in our district are involved. Worcester South Rotary gave me some good advice. After recovering from surgery and joined by a team from Alumni 1210, we set up Rotary Books4Home. Over the past few years we have sourced a large supply of sustainable donated pre-read children’s books.
Rotarians throughout District 1210 have donated storage space for the books, transport assistance and book sorting time. We have contacted schools and liaised to get Rotary Books4Home projects working in many different areas of our large district.
Rotary Books4Home aims to give the gift of a book for youngsters to read, take home and keep. Most people I talk to tell me about their favourite book they had as a child. They read it over and over again and, in many cases, still have that old, faded falling apart copy. Do you?
Rotary Books4Home aims to empower children to develop their love of reading and experience the chance to own books of their own. It also allows them to share that love of reading with their family.
It is a very easy project. It doesn’t cost a penny, it only takes time. And everybody involved loves books, so it is a joy to do.
For the project to happen books are donated by Rotary. We also have a lot of books donated by our local soroptimists branch, which would otherwise be pulped – thereby reducing waste, at the same time as enabling children to own books and improve their levels of literacy.
With guidance from the school and overseeing of the Rotary club, the books are made available for the children.
We are very flexible with arrangements; each school has different needs. The books given are chosen by the teachers and children to fit the school’s profile.
To date, 32 Rotary clubs and 102 schools have been involved in the project. Some Rotary clubs have engaged one, two or even three schools in the project which works with pre-school children, primary and secondary schools.
We have given 70,000 books to some of the poorest and most disadvantaged children throughout Staffordshire, Shropshire and parts of the West Midlands.
All of the books are checked and quality-assured. The most popular books are Harry Potter and Roald Dahl.
This year, more than ever, because of COVID-19, literacy needs to be a priority. The project has continued through the pandemic, although we have conducted a strict risk assessment for those delivering the books.
During the first lockdown, we distributed 5,000 books. Teachers used this as a catalyst to get children to come into school. The youngsters chose a book in the playground at a pre-arranged time and teachers were able to catch up with the children who they had not seen during the pandemic.
For World Book Day this year, teachers asked us for small sized books which they posted through the letterboxes of children’s homes, ensuring everyone had a book to read.
The teachers’ feedback has been amazing, and you only have to see the children’s faces too. To give them a book is like giving them a million pounds. The statistics speak for themselves.
Children who own books are six times more likely to read above the level expected for their age and nearly three times more likely to enjoy reading.
Many children, for the first time, now have a book of their own to read and to keep forever. And if you’re a book person, you love this project!