A grassroots London charity, Doorstep Library, is helping young people to discover the wonderful world of books and reading for pleasure

Words: Rachel Hogg

Reading for pleasure is a habit that starts off in the home, and there is endless evidence that learning to do so early in life is central to a child’s development and future success. Indeed, a 2012 report by the Department for Education showed that reading has more of an impact on education outcomes than socio-economic status. Of course, the benefits of reading extend well beyond the classroom – it is an important way for children to learn to understand the world, exercise their creativity and develop vital emotional and interpersonal skills.

Unfortunately, there are still plenty of barriers preventing children in low-income families from being able to develop as readers, barriers exacerbated further by the pandemic and current economic situation. Research by the National Literacy Trust shows a concerning trend towards a decrease in book ownership, with one in five children in England not owning a single book. This means that initiatives widening access to books have become more important than ever.

Doorstep Library
The evidence linking reading with later success in school and life is overwhelming, that’s where Doorstep Library comes in

One such initiative is Doorstep Library, a community-focused charity that offers a home-based service to families in some of the most disadvantaged areas of London. What first started over a decade ago with a single project involving a small team of volunteers in one borough has now expanded to 20 projects across five – Camden, Hammersmith & Fulham, Ealing, Westminster and Lambeth. As of 2022, Doorstep Library is reading regularly to 500 children from 250 families, and it has ambitious plans to expand its work still further.

“Many of the volunteers have been reading with the same family for years, with some having helped multiple siblings to enjoy reading for pleasure”

Some of these families discover the service through door-to-door campaigns and others are directed via referrals from schools or through word-of-mouth recommendation. Doorstep Library has a team of 130 reading volunteers, and they are trained to read alongside children aged 0-11. This service used to be exclusively face-to-face, however Doorstep Library launched ‘Online Reading Corner’ successfully during the pandemic and has continued to offer online reading visits ever since. The programme takes a highly personalised approach and aims to have families visited by the same volunteer each week. Many of the volunteers have been reading with the same family for years, with some having helped multiple siblings to enjoy reading for pleasure.

Each week during the term time, one of the volunteers will arrive armed with a stack of books all of which have been personally selected to not only reflect the age range and ability of the child, but (arguably more importantly) their personal interests and passions. Volunteers find that selecting books based on what the child is naturally interested in has a hugely positive impact on how engaged and enthusiastic they are about the process of reading – and continuing their reading journey. Most children Doorstep Library works with begin choosing these books for themselves as they become more confident readers, or they may get hooked on a particularly gripping series. Volunteer and child will read these books together for around 20-30 minutes and volunteers also leave behind a selection of books for the children to read on their own or with their parents.

Doortep Library – reading champions
Volunteers come armed with stacks of books – and the aim is quite simply to get children to love the discovery and joy of reading

By modelling a positive side-by-side shared reading experience, the charity aims to create a connection with reading that continues beyond the volunteer sessions. The overarching goal of Doorstep Library has always been to impact the entire family’s relationship with reading and make it a bonding experience for parents and children. This approach works, with the large majority of parents involved reporting that they look forward to joining in with the weekly sessions. Volunteers also frequently observe an increase in parents continuing to read with their children between sessions, and families also say they subsequently enjoy reading together.

“The overarching goal of Doorstep Library has always been to impact the entire family’s relationship with reading and make it a bonding experience”

For families involved, one unique thing about the Doorstep Library project is that it doesn’t involve any assessment or tests. The aim of the reading sessions led by volunteers isn’t necessarily to build any particular skills – it is purely focused on reading for pleasure. That is not to say that the children’s reading abilities don’t improve, and volunteers and parents alike report a significant improvement in the children’s vocabulary, their focus and concentration, their reading level and – most importantly of all – their interest in books.

Currently Doorstep Library also lends young readers more than 20,000 books a year – helping them to find the books and stories they love and, hopefully, setting them on course for a lifetime of reading regularly and enjoying all that this can bring. Considering what we know about the positive impact that reading for pleasure has on children’s futures, the work of Doorstep Library seems to be more important than ever right now.

* For more about the work of Doorstep Library, visit doorsteplibrary.org.uk

Further reading: Turn on, tune in – the amazing power of subtitles to boost literacy