The National Literacy Trust’s Middlesbrough Reads project works to help tackle literacy issues in communities across Middlesbrough.

We work with partners including local businesses, and health, education, cultural, and charity organisations in Middlesbrough. Our work includes helping to raise awareness of the importance of early literacy development, sharing a love of reading with children and families, and helping to improve literacy levels. You can read more about what’s been going on below.

Some lovely feedback: “The magazines have sparked conversations about the value of reading, building relationships, having one to one time as well as building relationships with siblings… many of our families are affected by poverty and some families would never have the funds to be able to obtain these magazines, they have been very gratefully received!”

If you’d like to get involved, please get in touch by emailing allison.potter@literacytrust.org.uk.

Getting books to vulnerable young people in Middlesbrough

When we went into the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, Middlesbrough Reads, in partnership with Middlesbrough Council’s School Readiness team, provided 1800 books for children in need and child protection children (aged 0 to 11). These books were given out by social workers.

We also supported looked after children by donating 175 books suitable for KS3 pupils, which were given out by Virtual School. These books had an RRP of £13,000, and our donation was made possible through the generosity of publishers.


Getting books to vulnerable adults and families

During the coronavirus lockdown, Middlesbrough Council set up the ‘Help Boro Hub’, delivering food parcels to vulnerable residents. A large number of residents being helped by the Hub were single, elderly people, who were socially isolated with no access to libraries. Middlesbrough Reads donated 120 new books for adults, which were included in the food parcels.

25% of the daily food parcel deliveries were going to households with children, so 400 books were donated to be included in the parcels going to vulnerable families. The books had an RRP of over £2000.


Food bank support

After Middlesbrough’s foodbanks took over responsibility for food parcels, Middlesbrough Reads applied to the Tees Valley Community Foundation for a grant to replenish our book stock, so we could keep supporting families. We were successful in getting a grant, and we managed to buy 2000 more books which were given out by the foodbanks.

In partnership with Middlesbrough Council’s School Readiness team, Middlesbrough Reads also donated an extra 350 books to be given out via food parcels from the MFC Foundation. The total RRP of the books was in excess of £13,000.


Supporting Pip – Disabled Mum’s community support

Middlesbrough Reads donated over 400 books to PIPSCO, a food delivery service set up by Phillipa Donegan, best known as ‘Pip – Disabled Mum’, in May 2020.

Pip, with the help of her support worker Madeline and husband John, set up PIPSCO in March 2020. She used their savings to set up a foodbank for disabled and vulnerable local families, all from her spare bedroom. In a two week period at beginning of May 2020, the foodbank provided food for 324 individual children.

As Pip is disabled and classed as at high risk from coronavirus, she had to shield, which meant she couldn’t get out to the supermarket. It was also hard to get home deliveries, so she decided to set up a pop-up store and delivery service to help other people in a similar position. PIPSCO is supported by monetary donations, volunteers, and donations from wholesalers.

Thanks to publishers including Penguin Random House and Pan Macmillan, Middlesbrough Reads was able to donate 400 books to PIPSCO. The books cover age ranges from newborns through to teenagers, and were included with food parcels. Pip also tries to include special treats each week, including chocolates and cornflake tart.

I gave a copy of Harry Potter to a very distressed 13 year old girl (during a DV issue) while collecting an emergency food parcel. In an hour she had read a lot! She told me she doesn’t read books, but a few pages in and she was hooked! Thank you so much to everyone who has made this donation possible – these amazing books are sure to raise some smiles and will help the children learn at home during the pandemic. I always say, as a community, we can pull through this together! – Pip Donegan, founder of PIPSCO


Magazine donations

In summer 2020, Middlesbrough Reads received a donation of over 3,000 new magazines, for children and adults. The Children’s Magazine Forum, who represent the biggest magazine publishers, offered some of the huge excess of unsold magazines to Middlesbrough Reads.

We were sent 2000 mixed magazines (with an RRP of over £13,000) which were given out by:

  • health visitors (new birth visits)
  • social workers to children in need or child protection children
  • PIPSCO food bank
  • the Ethnic Minority Achievement Team
  • Early Help visits
  • Early Years practitioners

The magazines have sparked conversations about the value of reading, building relationships, having one to one time as well as building relationships with siblings. As you will know, many of our families are affected by poverty and some families would never have the funds to be able to obtain these magazines, they have been gratefully received – health visitor

The Ethnic Minority Achievement Team distributed 100 magazines on their home visits. Magazines offer a way into reading English which is fun and engaging.

Our service provides educational support to INAs (International New Arrivals) to our community. A magazine is a luxury to most of our children particularly to our asylum seekers and refugees who have never seen a magazine! Magazines break down the language barrier for the children, they are visual, colourful and interactive. Children are reading and they don’t know it!  I feel the magazines will turn them on to the joy of reading and hopefully into lifelong readers – EMAT Team

The Publishers Association donated 1000 magazines and puzzle books suitable for adult readers, including Arrow Words, Logic, Mountain Biking UK, Vogue, and House and Garden. These were mainly given out at James Cook Hospital by therapeutic care volunteers, to adult patients who were unable to have visitors because of coronavirus restrictions. The rest were given out to new mums by health visitors.


Autumn foodbank support – White Feather

The White Feather Project is a non-profit charity working in the local community, whose mission is to help support the local community with food poverty, based in North Ormesby. They deliver emergency food care packages to vulnerable people and people in crisis, and also run an eco-food shop serving the local area, to help low income families.

Middlesbrough Reads, in partnership with Middlesbrough Councils’ School Readiness team, donated 500 books, magazines, and stationery packs to be included in the food parcels for families.


Stay Warm & Well – winter support

Middlesbrough Reads was approached by the new Warm and Well Winter Support Project, which has been set up by The Teesside Family Foundation, Ageing Better Middlesbrough, and Middlesbrough Council’s Staying Put Agency. The project delivers essential supplies to older people to help them stay warm, active, and busy over the festive period.

Many older people have been hit particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, leaving them cut off from family and friends, and unable to access the internet. It’s hoped this service can go a long way to helping those who need it across Middlesbrough.

Middlesbrough Reads provided 100 books, 200 magazines, and 80 puzzle books to be included in activity packs being delivered to over 50s, to keep them occupied during the winter months.


Project Santa

Middlesbrough Reads was contacted by disability activist, advocate, and blogger Philippa Donegan (‘Pip – Disabled Mum’) about an idea to give a special Christmas treat to hundreds of Middlesbrough children in December 2020.

Clinically vulnerable children, children with a vulnerable parent, children in low income families, or children in foster care would be unlikely to be able to visit Santa’s grotto in 2020, so Pip wanted to bring Christmas to their doorsteps. Thanks to ongoing donations by publishers, Middlesbrough Reads was able to donate 1400 books, 100 audio books, and 50 tactile books. Each book was wrapped and then quarantined to be safe. Children were referred by family, friends, and professionals, to get a visit from Santa or one of his elves.

ITV news covered the story nationally, along with various media outlets, and by Christmas Eve, 1532 books had been delivered to the doorsteps of vulnerable Middlesbrough children.

“You have made Christmas very special for some children this year!”

“Thank you so much – the boys loved their books!”

“Well done to all the elves, bringing cheer in these strange times!”


NEPACS – Christmas 2020

For the fifth year Middlesbrough Reads has support NEPACS at Christmas. However, in 2020 a different approach was needed due to coronavirus restrictions. Thirty prisoners were allowed to get a Purple Visit from their families – a video call. On the call, the dad would read ‘The Night Before Christmas’, and in the family hamper there was a copy of the book for the child to read along, donated by Middlesbrough Reads.

“Thank you for your continued support – the children will love receiving these very special gifts!”


Christmas at James Cook Hospital

For the fourth year, Middlesbrough Reads donated books for young patients at Christmas.

In 2019, one the many books donated by Penguin Random House was the festive title The Christmasaurus, written by popular children’s author Tom Fletcher. Over 130 copies (with an RRP of over £900) were gifted to young patients at James Cook leading up to Christmas. Thanks to the generosity of local partner WHSmith, a Christmasaurus cuddly toy was gifted to nine-year-old Marley Gill, who was spending time in the hospital at Christmas. His mum said: “reading in hospital is helping to widen his vocabulary and keep his brain active.”

In 2020, Middlesbrough Reads, in partnership with Middlesbrough Council’s School Readiness team, donated 80 books to be given out to young patients over the festive season.


Christmas Foodbank Support

Middlesbrough Reads and Middlesbrough Council’s School Readiness team helped spread the joy of reading over the 2020 festive season by gifting over 3,000 books to a range of fantastic local partners – including the Teesside Family Foundation, The Genesis Project, The Salvation Army, MFC Foundation, Tees Valley Together, The Junction Foundation, and Hemlington Linx. These books were used in Christmas food parcels and hampers, helping families in need of extra support this year.

“Thank you for your support, it really means a lot and makes such a difference to the families we support!”

“Thank you for the amazing support you’ve given our project and many others too!”

“Thank you so, so much for your amazing donation. These books will reach a lot of young children this Christmas!”

Since 2014, parents on the neonatal ward at James Cook University Hospital have been given copies of Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney to read to their premature babies, thanks to support from Walker Books.

In the early stages of the work, it was clear that parents were not always comfortable with acting on the guidance they’d been given to talk more with their babies, or read or sing to them. The parents on the neonatal unit had great respect for the specialist healthcare their babies were getting, and, while they were keen to get involved, they were also worried about doing the right thing.

Some of the parents and grandparents who were visiting their babies were intuitively finding ways to talk to them: “Well no one told me whether I could touch her or talk to her, but then I thought ‘this is my baby and I am going to tell her what it’s like here’. So I sat by her side and talked about the room, the lights, how hot it was, and how beautiful she was.”

A parent posted on Facebook her surprise when she came to the neonatal unit for the second time with her second baby: “Neonatal are now encouraging parents to read to their babies to help bonding and for babies to learn to recognise voices. So it’s story time now for Mummy and Matilda!”

The Middlesbrough Hub initiative, which has resulted in books becoming an important part of daily life on the ward, has been copied in other neonatal wards, including Stoke-on-Trent and Bradford. Staff from Scarborough visited James Cook Hospital in 2019 to learn more, as they were due to launch their initiative that year.

In 2021, Hungry Little Minds is partnering with the project and providing purple bags which contain information about reading to babies, Hungry Little Minds, Middlesbrough Council’s school readiness offer, and an extra book, alongside Guess How Much I Love You. Middlesbrough Reads is incredibly grateful for the ongoing support from Walker Books.

Read about how books helped Helen to bond with her premature baby

Middlesbrough Reads is an important part of Middlesbrough Council’s School Readiness team’s literacy pathway. The literacy pathway runs from antenatal classes, new birth visits, and health checks, through to the BookStart gifting in schools.

At its heart are the consistent, age-appropriate messages which are given to parents, encouraging the take-up of early literacy habits.

Sing with me

Middlesbrough Reads is continuing to work with the School Readiness team to promote the benefits of singing to newborn babies with their ‘sing with me’ nursery rhyme booklet, which is part of the literacy pathway in Middlesbrough.

The ‘sing with me’ booklets remind parents of the importance of sharing songs and rhymes with babies, and reminds them of some of the most familiar nursery rhymes. The booklet is given to all new Middlesbrough parents by their health visitor at the 6 to 8 week health check.

Research shows that singing songs and rhymes at home has a positive impact on a child’s literacy skills as they grow older. The rhythm and repetition in nursery rhymes helps young children develop the language skills they need to learn to talk. Singing is also recognised as a great way for new parents to bond with their babies.

In April 2018, the Education secretary highlighted the importance of singing nursery rhymes from an early age, showing the importance of our work.