School children and teachers at Millbrook Primary in Newport, South Wales, welcomed HRH The Duchess of Cornwall today to officially open their new school library as part of The Duchess’ 75th birthday celebrations and a nationwide Primary School Library Alliance campaign to transform 1,000 library spaces by 2025. Launched in November 2021, the Alliance is the first of its kind, bringing together private, public and third sector organisations to address the issue of library provision in primary schools.
The Duchess was accompanied by Cressida Cowell, former Waterstones Children’s Laureate and How to Train Your Dragon author-illustrator, alongside authors and illustrators Tom Percival, Nadia Shireen, Connor Allen, Children’s Laureate Wales and Casi Wyn, Bardd Plant Cymru.
The event included a Primary School Library Alliance meeting, attended by The Duchess and Alliance representatives from across the charity, publishing and private sector world, including the National Literary Trust, Chase, Penguin Random House UK, Firefly Press, BookTrust, the SLA, CILIP and Peters.
After being welcomed by Millbrook Primary School children and headteacher Keri Smith, and local dignitaries, The Duchess joined the session with the authors and illustrators, where they were all treated to live readings and a draw-along.
The event also saw the announcement of “The Duchess’ Birthday Books” project, a new initiative providing 25,000 children from 75 primary schools in disadvantaged areas across the UK with a wellbeing and happiness-themed ‘kinderbox’ or mini library.
The visit concluded with the children singing “Happy Birthday” to The Duchess in English and Welsh and presenting a birthday cake.
Millbrook Primary’s new school library is part of the nationwide campaign and the Chase Rewarding Futures School Libraries programme. Funded by Chase and supported by Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House Children’s, the programme aims to encourage a culture of reading for pleasure by installing the likes of new modular furniture, book shelving, e-readers and audio books, 400 new Puffin books as well as new book donations from publishers industry-wide. Teachers at the schools also receive bespoke training to further their ability to create a strong reading culture and support that will enable them to maximise the reading spaces as hubs for imagination and creativity.
National Literacy Trust CEO Jonathan Douglas said: “1 in 8 primary schools in England do not have a library, and this jumps to 1 in 4 for schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals. The Primary School Library Alliance has already worked with 334 primary schools like Millbrook to transform their library space, which will have a long-lasting positive effect on their wellbeing and their chances of doing well in life.”
Former Children’s Laureate, Cressida Cowell, said: “A significant part of my Laureateship centred around the absolute necessity of primary school library provision – libraries truly are life-changing. If children don’t have books at home, and they don’t have access to a local public library, how are they going to read for pleasure? Wonderfully, the Primary School Library Alliance has set out to transform 1,000 primary school libraries by 2025. A transformed reading space gives the children access to books that inspire a reading for pleasure culture and we know this has a positive impact on their wellbeing, their academic skills, and their chances of doing well in life. It is an honour to celebrate the opening of Millbrook Primary School’s new library, today, on the occasion of The Duchess’ 75th birthday.”
Headteacher at Millbrook Primary School, Keri Smith, said: “Here at Millbrook Primary, we value the importance of our children learning to read and comprehend whilst developing a love of books. We were delighted to learn that we had been awarded funding from Chase to install a new library as we desperately needed a designated reading space and we are now able to provide our learners with a wide range of rich, quality texts. It has been wonderful to see how engaged the children are with the books and how they eagerly spend quality time in the library with their reading buddies. Another fabulous addition to the school has been our school dog, Taliesin who we are training to help our children develop their confidence in reading out loud whilst also encouraging positive behaviour and building self-esteem. We are delighted to welcome our special visitors to Millbrook to officially open our new library and we look forward to opening it to the community in the next academic year.”
Managing Director of Penguin Random House Children’s, including Puffin, Francesca Dow said: “Stories are a powerful way to shape the future. Our mission is to publish a book for every child, everywhere, and so we are proud to support these ambitious initiatives and campaigns that help to make books accessible to more children in primary schools across the UK. Every young child and family deserves to discover the imaginative joy and lifechanging impact of reading.”
CEO of Chase in the UK, Sanjiv Somani, said: “We are thrilled to see the impact that the Chase Rewarding Futures School Libraries programme is having on children across the country, and The Duchess of Cornwall’s kinderboxes will add further reading resources to schools in underserved areas. Creating an inspiring and welcoming space in schools is one of the first steps in helping children discover the magic of reading, which we believe provides a vital contribution to their mental wellbeing."