News and views Innovative new early years’ literacy programme backed by Dolly Parton is launched in Merseyside 3rd April 2017 Story Starters, an innovative new early years’ literacy programme backed by Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, was launched on Monday 3rd April to help give Merseyside children the best start in life. The Story Starters launch was marked by a special event, held at the Storybarn in Calderstones Park and featuring local children’s author Alan Gibbons holding a special book reading for children from a local nursery set to be supported by Story Starters. Story Starters is a new collaborative project between children’s literacy charity Beanstalk, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and LuCid (University of Liverpool) which aims to give children on Merseyside the support they need to develop their language and reading skills. Story Starters has been made possible by players of The People’s Postcode Lottery. The People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund chose Story Starters to receive £1million in funding in January 2017. Working in partnerships with local nurseries, trained Story Starter volunteers will provide caring one-to-one support to develop and enrich the vital language and reading skills young children need to start school ready to learn. Along with the trained support provided by Story Starter volunteers, each child will receive high-quality resources from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library so that they can enjoy the magic of stories at home. On the launch of Story Starters: Dolly Parton said: “Beanstalk and my Imagination Library have joined together to launch a special program which will help children become more ready to read and to learn. We call it Story Starters. We send books into the children’s homes and our caring volunteers work one to one with the children to give them the extra support they need with their reading.” Ginny Lunn (Beanstalk CEO) said: “Providing effective early years support in language and reading development is vital to ensuring that children across Liverpool start school ready to learn. Story Starters will help ensure that children across Merseyside have the skills and confidence to reach for the stars.” Child illiteracy is a persistent problem both nationally and locally: Last year 34% of children in England left primary school unable to read to the required level. Last year 40% of children in Liverpool left primary school unable to read to the required level. Research shows that to overcome this problem, we must provide more support to children in their early years, as 58% of children start primary school already behind in their reading. Children who start behind are at risk of staying behind for life. Story Starters is launching in Merseyside and the North West, before rolling out nationally in the 2017-18 school year. Story Starters will transform the learning and lives of 1,800 children by 2019. To become a Story Starter volunteer or nursery please visit www.storystarters.org.uk or call 0845 450 0301 ENDS Notes to editors: For further information on Story Starters, to arrange an interview with a spokesperson, or to receive high-res photos please contact [email protected] or call 020 7729 4087. Story Starters is a collaborative project that combines excellence in volunteer training and management, high-quality resources and extensive knowledge from two children’s literacy charities with the evaluation methods of a University Research Centre. Beanstalk is a national literacy charity that recruits, trains and supports volunteers to work in primary schools with children who have fallen behind with their reading. Beanstalk's vision is that all children and young people have the essential skills they need to grow up and lead successful lives. LuCiD is a research collaboration to understand how children learn to communicate with language. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a global programme operating in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia with more than 1 million children receiving books. In the UK, there are approximately 100 partner organisations serving more than 33,000 children per month. Each Story Starter volunteer provides support for at least two regular hours per week during nursery hours. Each Story Starter volunteer supports three children on a one-to-one basis and uses play, stories and conversation to develop and enrich their understanding and use of language. Research on early years education is taken from: ‘Untapped Potential: How England’s nursery lottery is failing too many children’ published by Save the Children UK. Sources for statistics are available on request.