Local Charity Looking for Volunteers

The Doorstep Library Network wants your help!


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The Doorstep Library Network runs Doorstep Library Projects (DLP) on estates in Hammersmith & Fulham. Each DLP recruits volunteers to pay weekly visits to low-income families to read stories to their children and bring a choice of children books to borrow. They will seek to involve the parents in the reading sessions to enable them to experience how they can contribute themselves to their children’s education.

DLPs seek to develop partnerships with local community service providers to provide opportunities for the most disadvantaged beneficiaries to join in and take active roles in small community events designed for them.

Volunteers work in pairs, with each pair picking books to read with and lend to families. We visit families in their homes/ on their doorsteps, read a story with the children and lend them books for the week. Through the reading of stories to the children we also act to befriend parents/ carers, offering a listening ear and signposting suitable local services where appropriate.

Many of the families we visit do not have books or speak little English. By reading stories to the children (aged 6 months to 12 years) volunteers will become a regular joy in their lives. Through reading with the children regularly volunteers with offer the children continuity and one-to-one attention.

Volunteers will develop skills which will be useful for careers in education or social work and child care.

All Volunteers receive initial and on-going training including:

  • Introduction to poverty and social exclusion, and the overall aims of the Doorstep Library Network
  • Aims and methods of the project
  • Door-knocking and home visiting
  • Personal safety
  • Child protection policy
  • Confidentiality and information sharing policies
  • Local service provision and how to signpost these to families
  • Reading methods, especially for children with learning/ behavioural difficulties

All volunteers receive support and supervision throughout the placement.

Summary of the Doorstep Library Network’s purposes and activities

The Doorstep Library Network (DLN) is a new charity, it has been set up in October 2010 to build the capacity to manage and support the development of Doorstep Library Projects (DLPs). It stems from a three year pilot project started on the disadvantaged Fulham Court Estate in March 2007. This project was initiated by the international anti-poverty organisation ATD Fourth World (www.atd-uk.org) and one of its Fulham volunteers, with the help of All Saints Church, Fulham and funding from two local charities.

In its first four years, the DLN will develop its activities in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. The DLN has the potential to expand nationally.

The primary aim of the charity is to reduce some effects of long-term poverty through improving the educational potential of children from low-income families. These families live in areas selected for their high incidence of families suffering from high level deprivation. The project engages parents in the education of their children. The secondary aim is to encourage the social inclusion of the most disadvantaged and isolated families reached by the project.
This is achieved by running Doorstep Library projects (DLPs) (see description below) providing access to books and nurturing the enjoyment of reading at home to children between 1 year and 11 years old. Each DLP has a team of 6-8 volunteers, who visit 25 homes, with about 50 children and 25 parents/carers. Over the next 2 years the DLN will benefit: 150 children

The DLN plans to:
- Establish itself as a sustainable charity governed according to best practises (year 1).
- Run 3 DLPs in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (LBHF) by the end of year 2 and initiate 2 new ones by the end of year 5.
- Become a national support organisation rolling out new DLPs in central London and further afield (as from Year 4).

Description of Doorstep Library Projects (DLPs)

DLPs provide a universal educational service to low-income families with young children living on carefully selected estates in deprived city areas. In addition, they seek to reach out to and engage with the most vulnerable families living in these estates.

Each DLP has a team of 6-8 trained volunteers, recruited locally, offering 2.5 hours of their time one day a week after school hours. They visit homes, bringing a rucksack full of children’s books to the same 4-8 families each week and mini plastic stools for the children to sit on. They read stories to the children for about 20 minutes. During the first weeks of visiting the reading sessions take place on the doorsteps of the flats until the parents feel confident enough to invite the volunteers inside their homes. Each child is encouraged to borrow books for the week. It is a natural family learning session, as parents/carers and older siblings are invited to participate in the reading sessions.

The educational benefit for all the children participating is obvious. A DLP definitely introduces the joy of reading at home, which is invaluable for children whose parents struggle to teach them to read to a high standard and have little experience of children’s literature. We complement the efforts of schools. The reading sessions contribute to prepare younger children for nursery, and offer encouragement for mothers to begin to consider joining a play group. They offer one to one attention much appreciated by older children.

Beyond the strictly educational benefit, the friendly home visits are a first step for many families towards accepting a service which is aspirational. The DLN trains volunteers on local service provision, and charitable agencies, and through volunteer engagement with the parents and children, in particular those who seem to be most in need, they work to signpost these services. Through regular interaction with families the DLN is also able to pass observations and advice on to service providers, to enable them to improve their work and attract the most socially isolated families.

Each DLP needs a regularly replenished stock of new and attractive books and rents a base, usually in a community hall, to stock the books and from where the volunteers access the books and get organised before setting off on their round.

The needs the DLN addresses

The Hammersmith and Fulham Borough, like other Boroughs in London, has a variety of Family Support Services and extended school services. Sadly these are rarely accessed by the most deprived and vulnerable families. From our close links with the charity ATD Fourth World, experienced in piloting strategies to support the poorest families, we know that these families require specific strategies which do not lead to stigmatisation.

Families living in Lower Super Output Area (LSOA) estates in the LBHF face many deprivation related issues.

Our projects will contribute to reducing the education and social isolation deficits of many families with low-incomes, in particular:

• Need for reduction of language development gap between children of low-income families and other children
• Need for increased ambition regarding the children’s education (many households have no books nor newspapers nor magazines, and very little access to cultural activities)
• Need for more interaction between foreign families and local residents
• Need for access by the most vulnerable parents to services intended to support them
• Need for reducing social exclusion of the most vulnerable families
• Need for engaging ordinary citizens in supporting the most vulnerable families

Additional support to the most disadvantaged families:

Many low-income families in need of support services find it difficult to overcome physical and psychological barriers to access Council services and others designed to support them in the first place.

For these families, friendly home visits can be a first non-stigmatising step towards accepting a service which is offered universally in their community. It opens opportunities for signposting services and progressively encouraging and supporting families to engage with them on their terms. Interaction with people of a different background becomes more familiar, paving the way to more assertive relations with teachers and other professionals.

The vast majority of the parents we meet welcome us. They understand that we are independent from the Council, and they appreciate our support to each of their children. They enjoy the visits themselves. A Doorstep Library visit makes them feel valued as parents.


April 3, 2012