The National Literacy Trust is encouraging publishers to join Connecting Stories, which was set up in January to address the literacy gap among children in England, as it enters its second phase.
The Arts Council England-funded project currently operates in 14 “hub” areas (Bradford, Birmingham, Doncaster, Hastings, Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire Coast, Nottingham, Peterborough, Stoke-on-Trent, Swindon, Manchester, North East, Blackpool and the Black Country), by providing books and literary experiences to children and young people. Currently 26 publishers support Connecting Stories but Joanna Prior, m.d. of Penguin General and vice-chair of the NLT, is hoping more will sign up for phase two of the project, which starts this month.
“Twenty-six is a good number but we would like more people to join in,” she told The Bookseller. “Phase two is to try and focus in more detail on the diversity and inclusion agenda and what we want is for the relationships between the publishers and the hubs to grow even stronger. We will also be able to understand communities better. We can really co-create projects with the communities. What is it that they want? What will spark the interest of the children in their schools?”
The NLT has established community groups across the hub areas and the managers of those groups are now helping design programmes for their areas. “We are not just saying, ‘Here are a load of books’, we are listening to what they need and seeing if we can provide a solution,” said Prior.
Connecting Stories has operated throughout the period of Covid-19 and lockdowns, and authors and their publishers have reached out with digital and online events, as well as some that were in-person. So far there have been 41 author events, and one, organised with Cressida Cowell to celebrate World Book Day, reached 73 schools. Publishers have donated and distributed more than 50,000 books through the scheme.
The NLT estimates that 102,000 people have benefited from Connecting Stories but Prior says impact is more important than hitting the 100,000 mark. “[It is] lasting change you are creating by converting a child to being excited by books and reading. If you have to do that one-by-one, that’s what we will do. It’s not just about reading, it’s about success and wellbeing and health, and having the best opportunities in life.”