13 February 2019

Children from local schools and pre-schools across Liverpool welcomed Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall to Liverpool Central Library to mark two years of Story Starters – a reading programme delivered by Coram Beanstalk which trains volunteers to work with children aged 3-5 and introduces them to the world of books and stories.   

The Duchess of Cornwall has been Patron of Coram Beanstalk since 2013 and continues to passionately support children’s literacy projects. During the visit Her Royal Highness met with some of the very first Story Starter volunteers and the children supported by them. 

Story Starters first launched in Merseyside in April 2017 as a two-year collaborative project between Coram Beanstalk, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and LuCid (University of Liverpool) and was 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. As part of the collaboration, Coram Beanstalk has recruited, trained and placed volunteers in early years settings, while Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has provided every Story Starter child and volunteer with high-quality, professionally-selected, age-appropriate books every month. 

LuCiD (www.lucid.ac.uk) - a project based at the University of Liverpool to help transform our understanding of how children learn through language and communication – will now be looking at the findings of the two-year period to report on the impact of the project. 

Ginny Lunn is Managing Director of Coram Beanstalk:  

We have been delighted to welcome our patron, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall to Liverpool, and to talk to her about Story Starters, our collaborative programme with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and LuCiD and to illustrate the progress made so far. Sharing the magic of books with children in their early years is so vitally important to give them the foundations they need to start school ready to learn. Unfortunately, many children do not get the opportunity to share books with an adult regularly at home, for a number of different reasons, and it’s so important that these children do not start school at a disadvantage because of this. This collaborative approach to the Story Starters project has meant we have been able to bring together quality reading support, engaging books and meaningful research which will transform the life chances for so many children supported through the programme and others in the future. Her Royal Highness has been such a great advocate for children’s literacy and its fantastic to have her support as we reach this two-year milestone and look to reach even more children going forwards.”  

Pauline has been a Story Starter volunteer in Cheshire since November 2017 and attended the special event: 

“I just LOVE being a Story Starter! When I retired from the NHS, I started looking for some volunteer opportunities and saw an advert for Story Starters with Beanstalk and applied straight away. I love reading and was excited about being involved with nursery and reception school children introducing them to the amazing world of books. Following interview and initial training, I was placed in a local school and allocated three children aged four years-old. Spending 20 minutes twice a week with each child is magical - either reading the story with them and then chatting about it or using picture books and being taken on imaginative journeys is priceless. When they recognise a story and can relate it back to you the smile on their face is enormous. I feel really lucky that the school I am placed in is very supportive, and the children are receptive to our intervention. I would encourage anyone with a love of reading to share this skill with our future readers, you never know, you might be hooked like me!”  

Representatives from The Dollywood Foundation UK were also at the event to meet The Duchess. Kirsteen Watson, UK Regional Director said: 

“We are delighted to be part of this Story Starters two-year celebration event with Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall.  Coram Beanstalk have developed fantastic training on dialogic reading for their volunteers who are matched with children in the early years so that they can get the best from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library books at their sessions each week.  The children receive an Imagination Library book in the post every month, and we know that the monthly book delivery is very exciting for the children who receive them at home. Book sharing really is magical and through working with Coram Beanstalk, Lucid, and the People's Postcode Lottery we've been able to support more children to enjoy fantastic picture books with a significant adult in their lives.  We look forward to seeing even more children enjoying books through this partnership in the future.” 

Story Starters was developed to support children aged three to five to help with early language development and reading skills. According to statistics from the Department for Education (DfE) released last year 28 per cent of four and five-year-olds lacked the early communication skills expected by the end of reception year. However, research shows that children who benefit from high-quality support in their early years start school on average three months ahead in their literacy and language skills, compared with children who don’t. 

Since its launch in 2017, Story Starters has been rolled out nationally by Coram Beanstalk with over 400 Story Starter volunteers currently active across almost 200 early years settings in the UK, and more volunteers ready to be trained and placed by Coram Beanstalk in new settings. This means the programme will have reached 1,800 children by the end of the two-year period, all of whom have benefitted from caring one-to-one support helping develop and enrich the language and reading skills these children need to start school ready to learn. 

Coram Beanstalk will continue to deliver the Story Starters programmes and needs more volunteers to join its network of reading helpers across the UK. To find out how to apply please visit storystarters.org.uk or call 020 7729 4087.