A Nottingham scheme that gives free books to children has reached another major milestone.

The 350,000th book has been delivered to a young reader in the city through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

The book-gifting charity was introduced in the city in 2009 and now has more than 5,700 children registered to have a book delivered to their door every month – covering half of the city’s 20 wards.

The Imagination Library improves children’s literacy levels so that they are better prepared to start school. Age-appropriate books are personally addressed to the child every month from birth, allowing them to build up a library of 60 books over five years.

Close to 3,600 children have now graduated from the scheme in Nottingham and research has shown that academic achievement has improved for this group. Nearly 10,000 have benefitted from Dolly Books across the city.

The news also comes shortly after a pre-Christmas fundraising effort quadrupled a £5,000 target, with local businesses and the public chipping in to collect more than £20,000 to support the scheme.

Councillor David Mellen, Leader of Nottingham City Council, said: “I’ve been closely involved with the Dolly Books programme since its inception and I’m delighted that we have now delivered the 350,000th book – another significant milestone.

“There is a clear and demonstrable need in Nottingham to help families access books and to develop a lifelong love of reading from a young age. We know that academic assessment is showing an improvement for children involved with Dolly Books, which is so important.

“I’m proud of how the charity has grown in the city over the past decade. This is down to the generosity of sponsors and fundraisers who have donated to the Imagination Library. It is a truly incredible achievement to have more than 5,700 children receiving the free books every month, but we’d love to be able to extend it even further.”

Cheryl Mitchell, a teaching assistant at Fernwood Infant School in Wollaton, first sparked the vision of the Imagination Library in Nottingham in 2009. Momentum gathered when the Rotary Club of Nottingham worked with the City Council to co-ordinate fundraising which enabled the scheme to be set up in Bilborough in 2012.

Councillor Cheryl Barnard, Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People, said: “Reading is a life skill and a constant source of knowledge and learning, but also something which many people simply develop a love for – and most often that starts from a young age.

“Unfortunately, not all Nottingham children have access to a range of books in their home. We know that sharing stories regularly can help prepare them for nursery, by which time many are already behind in their development in comparison to their peers.

“Our young people deserve the best possible start in life. We know that reading with children is one of the best ways to set them up for a bright future.”

The Nottingham scheme is supported by local organisations, The Rotary Club of Nottingham and Small Steps Big Changes – but it relies on ongoing sponsorship.

In November last year, councillors Mellen and Barnard, along with other elected members and officers, spent a week reading to more than 1,200 children in schools, nurseries and playgroups.

Reading sessions also took place under the skeleton of Titus the T.rex at Wollaton Hall, in the Council House ballroom and on the top deck of a Nottingham City Transport biogas bus.

In total, more than £20,000 was donated by the public and local businesses, including an especially generous donation of £12,500 – enough to support 100 children through the scheme – from Domlal Foundation. Collections at recent Theatre Royal productions also added significantly to the total.

Every donation helps:

  • £2 can pay for a child to get a new book
  • £25 can pay for a child to get a new book each month for a year
  • £125 pays for a child to get a book every month from birth until their 5th birthday

More information about the Imagination Library in Nottingham is available at http://www.dollybooksnottingham.org/