Parents' anger as council says it will scrap Dolly Parton's free book service for children under five

Doncaster Council has been accused of ‘letting children down’ for announcing the end of a scheme which gives kids under the age of five a free book to read each month.

Tuesday, 9th July 2019, 5:18 pm
Mum Daniella with three-year-old daughter Esmé who use the Dolly Parton Imagination Library service.

An email seen by the Doncaster Free Press shows the Dolly Parton Imagination Library will come to an end on September 1 following a review of library services.

Bosses said it was a ‘difficult decision’ after trying to find alternative funding arrangements. Children will receive their last book in August.

The external funding, provided by the Schools Forum, ended after three years and was worth around £678,000.

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Doncaster Council bosses said the service will end on September 1

The scheme will hit 12,000 families with young children with some on the waiting list to receive books.

The US country star set up the scheme in the UK back in 2007 and is enjoyed by thousands of children across the country which aims to give free books from birth up to the age of five.

A petition has been launched by Armthorpe mum Daniella Laffay who uses the service with three-year-old daughter Esmé. She’s calling on the council to bring the scheme back into use.

The announcement to parents via email added further insult to injury after a blank template with empty addresses and names was sent out by mistake.

Mum Daniella Laffey and daughter Esmé aged three.

It’s understood Doncaster Council are looking into the admin error.

The decision has been heavily criticised by parents who said the council should look to fund the service after the grant ended.

Many parents praised the scheme and said their children looked forward to getting a book through the post addressed to them each month.

Student mental health nurse Daniella, 25, said she ‘loves the service’ and feels the council has ‘given up too easily’ in ending the service.

The changes will impact on 12,000 families

“It feels like they’re letting our children down,” she said.

“Of all the things they won’t fund, things to do with children’s education should be a number one priority.

“This service is vital for many families, areas of Doncaster aren’t the most privileged of places and a lot of people haven’t got much money.

“This is something which children get really excited about because it’s their own post with their name on.

“I’ve spoken to a fair few people and parents are really not happy about this. I know Nottingham Council and other groups have found ways to keep this going through charities so I don’t understand why Doncaster seems to have thrown the towel in so quickly.

“I can’t praise this scheme enough, it gives children a great start in early years learning and now it’s going away - it’s really sad.”

Hundreds of parents have signed the petition in less than 24 hours and the response has taken Daniella by surprise.

“It shocks me how many people have signed it in such a short time but then you realise how passionately people feel about this and how many people it has affected.”

Riana Nelson, interim director of education at Doncaster Council said: “Following the recommendations from a full review of the literacy offer across the borough, the decision to close the Imagination Library was made.

“Funding for Imagination Library came from an external source, which was the Dedicated School Grant. This grant covered an initial period of three years and has now come to an end.

“We have explored a number of alternative external funding options to allow us to continue the scheme but unfortunately this has not been possible at this time.”

Ms Nelson said the council will also be launching a new literacy hub in Doncaster, in conjunction with the National Literacy Trust and the DfE in the coming months.

She added the main focus will be to work with disadvantaged communities to improve reading levels and ‘ensure that children are competent readers’ by the end of primary school.

Council bosses said last year the book scheme had helped Doncaster schools to improve results in literacy by seven per cent - well above the national average.

The service was praised by the now chief executive Damian Allen who said Doncaster had one of the biggest uptakes of the scheme in the entire country.

The petition can be found