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Arts Council and Penguin Random House UK join forces to invest in transforming 500 primary school libraries

Arts Council England (@ace_national) has awarded Penguin Random House UK (@penguinrandom) a £901,177 National Lottery Project Grant to expand its World of Stories programme, with the publisher matching this commitment with a £1million investment made up of cash and in-kind support.  The programme, run in partnership with the National Literacy Trust, helps primary schools to improve their libraries and give children better access to the benefits of reading.

One in four schools in disadvantaged communities do not have a library or dedicated reading space, despite the evidence of the positive impact that access to books and reading for pleasure can have on children’s learning, wellbeing and academic attainment.  World of Stories attempts to address this by providing schools with a carefully selected range of books, bespoke online and face-to-face training from the National Literacy Trust, access to a library of free audiobooks, and support to build links with local public libraries and school library services.

The new investment will fund the programme until 2024, and is expected to impact 125,000 children in 500 primary schools in disadvantaged communities in the Black Country, East London, Blackpool, Essex, Swindon, and Redcar and Cleveland.  All of these areas include places that were recently designated as Priority Places by the Arts Council where it wants to develop new opportunities for investment.

The next phase of World of Stories will build on the work the programme has done with over 200 schools since it was launched by Puffin, part of Penguin Random House, and the National Literacy Trust in 2017.  The new investment will also allow the programme to bring several independent publishers on board for the first time, including Knights Of, which publishes books from underrepresented authors and illustrators, and Barrington Stoke, which specialises in books for reluctant and struggling readers and those with dyslexia.

World of Stories is a flagship programme of the new Primary Schools Library Alliance, which is also being launched today by National Literacy Trust and Penguin Random House UK to address the chronic lack of investment in primary school libraries.  The organisations are calling for large-scale public and private funding, alongside collaboration from other charities, publishers and ambassadors, to provide more resources for 1000 primary school libraries by 2025 and give over half a million children better access to the benefits of reading.

Sue Williamson, Director, Libraries at Arts Council England said

“We’re delighted to work with Penguin Random House UK and the National Literacy Trust on this project, bringing together schools and public libraries in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country, which we have designated as priorities for further investment.  We know that reading has so many benefits for children, and this funding is a vital step in ensuring that no child has to miss out on the inspiring, educational, enthralling power of literature.”

Siena Parker, Social Impact Director at Penguin Random House UK said

“Books offer inspiration, escape, and the ability to step into someone else’s shoes. Research has shown that children who read for pleasure have better life chances in the future, get better grades, and report higher levels of wellbeing.

“Yet so many children are missing out on the joy of reading because our schools simply don’t have the resources they need. To help address this critical issue, we are delighted to increase our own investment in partnership with Arts Council England to expand our tried-and-tested World of Stories programme to 500 more schools across the UK, from Blackpool to the Black Country.”

Jonathan Douglas CBE, Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust said

“Over the last four years that we have been delivering the World of Stories programme with Penguin Random House, we have seen a huge impact on both children and teachers. We are extremely excited to be able to expand its reach with the support of Arts Council England and Penguin Random House to reach even more schools in areas of the country where children have been so disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”

The next phase of the programme will run from January 2022.  Schools can apply if they are located in the Black Country, East London, Blackpool, Essex, Swindon or Redcar and Cleveland, and have a higher than average percentage of pupils receiving free school meals.  More information is available here.

The seven independent publishers involved joining the programme are B Small, Barrington Stoke, Scallywag Press, Emma Press, Knights Of, Lantana, and Sweet Cherry.

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