Transforming a school library into a hub of imagination and adventure

Stories from Social Impact

View through arch in library of children quietly reading in chairs and on tables.

Libraries are suffering from a chronic lack of investment – 1 in 7 primary schools in England do not have a library, and this rises to 1 in 4 schools in our most disadvantaged communities. In partnership with the National Literacy Trust, we launched World of Stories in 2018.

The programme aimed to address two key challenges facing many primary schools up and down the country – lack of budget to buy new books, and lack of time or expertise among teaching staff to help bring books and reading to life.

Reading for pleasure is proven to help improve academic progress, as well as mental wellbeing and empathy.

Now in 730 schools across the UK, World of Stories gives schools the tools they need to help transform their school into a hub of imagination and creativity.

Visiting Brinkley Grove Primary in Colchester, Essex, we spoke to Bronya, Deputy Headteacher, and Louise, teacher and librarian about their experiences of taking part in the programme.

"This space used to be the kind room
that was nothing and everything,
a bit of a dumping ground."

Louise with a copy of Charlotte's Web, her childhood favourite book.

With local libraries closing down, many children are cut off from the only option available to reach books that they can take home to read.

'There are some children that come from quite poor backgrounds. So having access to lots of lovely, new books has meant a lot to them. They can't necessarily go to the library because it's in the town centre, which is about four miles away and a lot of our families don't have that provision. So having this here has made a big difference.'

Boy looking surprised and delighted by a section of his book with other children reading in the background.
Two girls looking at a picture book together smiling.
Two girls sitting in a cubby hole in the library, holding books and smiling into the camera.
Four boys sitting together looking at different books and picture books.

The library at Brinkley Grove has transformed - not only giving the children access to hundreds of brand new books, but also transforming how teachers focus the school day around reading.

'Because we've got so much in terms of work load, reading for pleasure and sharing books was kind of slipping away, and we thought – we need to do something about this. We've done things like taking assemblies away so we can instead dedicate that time every day to read to the children.'

Young girl sitting at table with her book, smiling straight into the camera with other children reading in the background.

Along with 400 brand new books, World of Stories also offers participating schools a library of audiobook downloads and colourful resources and materials to help bring the space to life.

Most importantly, a teacher from each school takes part in both online and face-to-face training delivered by the National Literacy Trust. This training helps equip each teacher with the ideas, knowledge and tools they need to take back to their school to highlight the importance of reading for pleasure.

'Rather than us having to teach all the comprehension skills, on the course it was suddenly about reading for pleasure being just as big and just as important. The conversations we had on the course alongside other teachers was so illuminating. We realised things like, "how many children's books do you know now?", and "do your class recognise you as a reader?" It was so important to discuss and realise those things.'

Louise reading a picture book with four young boys in the library.
Bronya reading with one of her pupils in the library on a table.

"If you can get them hooked on
reading for pleasure early, then
their life chances are significantly
improved even if the odds are
stacked against them."

Bronya smiling into the camera holding an open copy of Matilda by Roald Dahl.

Reading is now integrated into the school day, with the library at the centre. Woven into lessons are reading initiatives that Bronya and Louise have started after attending the training: 'We're keeping things going in our reading journey. Initiatives like Read Around The World - the children had a 'passport' and if they read for 30 minutes they'd 'travelled' 100 miles. They had to reach all these cities to stamp their passport. It was a great challenge'

Brinkley Grove's library operates like your local library would – children can browse, read, as well as take books home. But with a difference – all of the librarians are pupils.

'The pupil librarians are a real range of academic ability, boys and girls. They love it – they're so proud to wear their badges. They tidy, organise, put everything on the computer system, make sure everything is labelled correctly. I can rely on them for anything.'

"I love the library because you can
read books at school but you can
also read them at home and it helps
you have the time to enjoy them."

Girl reading in the library intently.

The biggest achievement? Truly embedding reading for pleasure into the whole school community’s ethos and everyday.

"I've got a class of 30 in year five. There are some lively characters and yet, when I read to them they are just… silent. They just listen. Actively listen. When I finish there's a chorus of, 'Oh can't you just read a few more pages?' And I think, 'Yes. We did it.'"

Birds eye view of children on the library floor sitting looking at books.

Photographs by Kate Holt