Giving children a chance to read

A child enjoying the Jim McLaughlin
A child enjoying the Jim McLaughlin

One man’s effort to save books turned him into a champion of reading.

When Jim McLaughlin saw a 10-tonne skip being filled with books destined for an incinerator he had to take action.

Children making the most of the Re-Read scheme

Children making the most of the Re-Read scheme

The thought of the books being destroyed when so many families out there could not afford such luxuries made him sick.

But little did Jim know that saving the books would be the catalyst for a new career move.

He said: “They belonged to a dealer, who’d bulk-bought and picked out the ones of value and had to get rid of the rest,

“Among them were a lot of lovely books for children that were in very good condition.

Since it launched nearly three years ago Re-Read has given away 58,000 children’s books

“I felt sick at the idea of such waste and couldn’t sleep that night. I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with them, but I knew that for many families books are a luxury they can’t stretch to, and there’s a link between disadvantage and low literacy rates. I wanted to get the books to children who didn’t have any.”

He took the skip-load from the dealer, and found an industrial unit to house them.

Using redundancy money from his previous job, Jim took six months to do his homework, design a business model and Re-Read was born.

The social enterprise buys in or is given unwanted books - the majority from charity shops- then sells as much general stock as possible online or to reuse or recycle.

Jim McLaughlin of Re-Read with one of the children benefitting from the scheme

Jim McLaughlin of Re-Read with one of the children benefitting from the scheme

This finances the giving away of children’s books that are in good condition to families, schools and children’s groups.

Operating with the slogan: ‘Give Your Unloved Books New Life’, Re-Read is invited to community events, where its wares are quickly hoovered up by children and parents.

Since it launched nearly three years ago Re-Read has given away 58,000 children’s books, and there are currently 80,000 books of other kinds for sale online.

With funding from the Coalfield Regeneration Trust, the Sheffield-based Key Fund and Community Foundation, Re-Read now operates out of two highly organised units in Doncaster that are stacked high.

Jim McLaughlin of Re-Read

Jim McLaughlin of Re-Read

Growing up in Swinton, near Rotherham, one of Jim’s favourite books ironically was Clive King’s Stig Of The Dump, the story of a mysterious boy who collects other people’s rubbish and puts it to good use.

Now aged 52, Jim can identify with Stig, he said: “Well, I spend my life doing what he did - finding new homes for the stuff other people don’t want.

“In 2011, 229m books were bought in the UK - a 42 per cent increase over ten years. How many of those go unread, and are either boxed in a corner somewhere or discarded?

“At the same time there are children in low-income families whose parents are struggling to buy food and pay bills. There is research showing that owning even one book they can keep re-reading gives a child increased self-esteem, wellbeing and life chances.”

Nearing the end of its third year, Re-Read’s online sales are flying high.

Income is also derived from selling the the tattier books for recycling into other paper products, in addition to sales of books to wholesalers in bulk and to specialist traders.

As well as giving the joy of reading back to the community Jim is also helping to boost the jobs market.

Part of its remit as a social enterprise involves the creation of volunteering, work placement and job creation opportunities.

There’s currently a team of six core staff, seven physically or mentally disabled trainees funded by the Shaw Trust, and a posse of volunteers - all working flat out.

Monday mornings are particularly hectic, with more than 100 online book orders accumulated over the weekend to be dispatched by the afternoon.

Members of Doncaster Council’s Safer, Stronger Families team recently came and took 18 boxes of children’s books to give out to disadvantaged families, and the Council asked Re-Read last summer if the social enterprise would take over and run Askern Library, which was about to close.

“It’s been a big success,” says Jim.

“Community events are held there, we do free book giveaways, and the library is bucking the general trend, with a lot of people joining who weren’t members before.”

After the cancellation of mobile community libraries, Re-Read won a council-funded contract to take books to the most isolated members of the community by installing and stocking bookshelves with free books at local amenities including community centres and pubs.

Among Jim’s ideas for future development are a series of book donation drop-off points.

Jim is also looking at the possibility of extending Re-Read’s work to Rotherham, where the Council has pulled its financial support out of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which posted a free book each month to children under five.

Spreading the magic of books is fulfilling, he says. His team don’t earn a lot but they love what they do.

“I think we all really love it - and people who don’t read very much when they come to us get infected by being around books all the time. It turns everyone into a reader.

“Books transform lives. Families kill themselves financially buying computer games for the kids, but a book takes you to another place and gives you time with your own imagination. It gives you escape and experience of another kind of world, and enables children to have dreams.”

For more information about Re-Read call 01302 728930 or visit Re-Read