Quarter of a million pound grant will see community play libraries set up around the north

A network of community play libraries is to be set up across the north of England after education charity SHINE awarded £249,000 to fund a major new project for early years children.

The scheme, which will be run by early development experts Boromi, will see free play resources being made available in 250 settings around the north. It is hoped that more than 16,000 children will benefit from the scheme in the first three years of the project and many more in the future.

Boromi, which won its creator Evie Keough a Let Teachers SHINE award in 2019, has successfully established a network of ‘Play Libraries’, working in partnership with primary schools and nurseries across the country.

SHINE funded an independent two-year evaluation of the programme which found that children accessing Boromi bags experienced an average 25 percentage-point change in their communication skills during the last school year. 

Evie also explained that ‘working through school settings alone will not be enough. We need to also be working in a way where we’re able to reach younger children, from birth’.

To achieve this, Boromi is developing community ‘pop-in Play Libraries’, which will operate alongside its existing schools’ programme and within the local communities’ surrounding lead schools.

The libraries will use Boromi’s award-winning resources, meaning they can be easily and freely accessed by families, in familiar locations just a short distance from home.

The funding from SHINE will enable Boromi to build upon a small-scale pilot run in the East Midlands, enabling it to reach children from birth, in the crucial earliest stage of their development.

Evie explained: “The impact of poverty on language can be seen as early as two years old. We’ve known for a long time that we need to find a way to reach children before they start in a formal setting, and this funding enables us to do that.

“We are developing Play Libraries that can be accessed from birth, reaching new families of children aged 0-5 years who we simply wouldn’t be able to connect with through our schools’ programme alone.

“Schools will remain central to what we do, but we will be working deeper into communities through settings such as libraries, children’s centres, food banks and family hubs.

“We want to develop an agile approach that means we can work in a more bespoke community-based way.”

Evie continued: “Our long-term ambition is to develop a national infrastructure of free, accessible and hands-on play support that families can access within their local community. 

“Our priority is to identify cold spots, finding local communities where the need is greatest, where the support doesn’t currently exist.”

Boromi’s Play Libraries exist for families to ‘discover the play within their everyday’. They share ideas, simple resources and accessible guidance for families to nurture early development through playing and talking together.

Boromi trialled the community model in a pilot with three Leicestershire libraries in 2022, and the reaction to that scheme convinced the team of its massive potential.

Evie said the new project will help Boromi to start providing support for families more cohesively.

In the first year of the project, Boromi is working in partnership with five schools/learning partnerships – in Preston, Carlisle, Leeds, County Durham and Liverpool.

These include:

Queen’s Drive Primary School, Preston

Inglewood Primary School, Carlisle

All six primaries from Brigshaw Learning Partnership

Brandon Primary School, County Durham

Whitfield Primary School, Liverpool

Helen Rafferty, Interim CEO of SHINE, said: “We know that the experiences and interactions a child has in their very earliest years are critical to their future development, however, in many of the most challenged areas of the north of England parents lack the support, resources and connections they need to make the most of this exciting stage of their child’s life.

“We are proud to be supporting Boromi to make a substantial and widespread impact on children and families in these early years, and very much looking forward to seeing what comes next for Boromi.”

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