BookBenches line the streets of Birmingham

BookBenches line the streets of Birmingham

BookBenches are back, this time in Birmingham for The Big Read to encourage literacy development in the West Midlands.

Altogether 175 painted benches, shaped as open books, are currently on display in Birmingham as part of the literacy arts project that has involved 140 schools, nurseries, colleges and community groups in the West Midlands to celebrate young people and their creativity. The Big Read is a literacy-themed arts event for schools and community groups in the West Midlands and the benches will be around until early September.

Schools and community groups were asked to decorate the benches, inspired by their favourite novels, comics, poems and prose to "harness the power of creativity", that would then furnish the region’s museums, libraries and cultural hubs, throughout the summer.

Incentive for schools and community groups to take part also included access to Career Professional Development (CPD) teacher training in Birmingham, delivered by the national literacy charity National Literacy Trust to help teachers develop a reading culture throughout their school, as well as being able to keep the benches at the end of the project, where they are set to become "a lasting feature of a library, book corner or outside learning environment".

Design inspiration for the benches ranges from children's favourites Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Puffin); Roald Dahl (Penguin Books); JK Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Bloomsbury) and the the Mr. Men series (Egmont) to classics Mary Shelly's Frankenstein (Collins Classics), The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (HarperCollins) and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Gillian Sparrow, headteacher at Hillstone Primary School, said: "At Hillstone, we are passionate about giving our children a real love for reading, not just because attitudes are linked to attainment, but because reading is such an intrinsic pleasure. Giving our children the chance to design and decorate a BookBench is a superb way for us to help raise the profile of reading even further.

“We purchased and painted a one-off BookBench earlier this year to have Roald Dahl’s BFG in our playground and the children love sitting next to him on the bench. We can’t wait to get started on a new BookBench as part of The Big Read.” 

One of the first venues to sign up to exhibit was the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which holds a grand total of 24 Big Read BookBenches - the biggest collection of BookBenches in the region. Other venues include BBC Birmingham, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, the Library of Birmingham and community libraries, Grand Central, Millennium Point, Waterstones, John Lewis, The Core in Solihull, and Central Library in Coventry. Trail and activity maps are free to download and print from The Big Read website and can be picked up at participating venues. 

BookBenches were last seen in the streets of London in summer 2014, when The National Literacy Trust teamed up with Wild in Art on "Books About Town". The initiative, designed to celebrate "the joy of reading books", enlisted professional illustrators and local artists to decorate the 50 bench sculptures for eventual auction after their summer display; over £250,000 was raised, with proceeds put towards raising literacy levels in disadvantaged communities in the UK. The Big Read differs as a project for schools and community groups only.

The trail officially opened during CBBC’s Awesome Authors weekend in Centenary Square on 16th July, celebrating with appearances from best-loved authors as Dame Jacqueline Wilson. It will run throughout the summer until Roald Dahl Day on 13th September 2016.

Pictures: © Daniel Graves.