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Innovative ‘book gifting’ scheme inspiring young imaginations this festive season

Just ahead of Christmas, the first families to benefit from Better Start Bradford’s book gifting scheme are receiving their first books this week. Better Start Imagine will send a free book each month to babies and toddlers across the Better Start Bradford area, aiming to boost literacy skills and inspire young imaginations.

Better Start Bradford is encouraging all families across Bradford, Yorkshire and beyond to bear books in mind as the festive season gets underway – by engaging children in book-related activities over the holidays and giving books as gifts. They are highlighting how children, including babies and toddlers, can benefit enormously from being read to and reading with their family.

Better Start Imagine is one of 22 projects being set up through the innovative Better Start Bradford programme, a 10-year Big Lottery-funded programme that aims to support families to give children the best possible start in life. Delivered by local partners BHT Early Education and Training, the project is part of the international ‘Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library’, set up by the Country and Western singer, who grew up in a household with no books. It builds on a similar scheme delivered in the Canterbury area of Bradford, which was shown to be effective in encouraging increased reading and book-related activities by families[i].

Freddie Rodwell, age three months, is one of the babies already signed up to Better Start Imagine. His mum, Shannon Cahill, age 22, said: “I can’t wait for Freddie to receive his first book. Before I had heard of the Better Start Imagine project, I would have never thought of reading to a baby and I didn’t realise how important reading will be for Freddie’s language development. I have even bought Freddie some books for Christmas and am really looking forward to snuggling up with him to read them together.”

Families in the Better Start Bradford area with a child born on or after 1 January 2016 can register to be part of the scheme online

Better Start Bradford is working to engage families with children under four and expectant parents across three wards of Bradford (Little Horton, Bowling and Barkerend and Bradford Moor), through a broad range of projects that support literacy and communication, health and nutrition, and social and emotional development. As one of five ‘A Better Start’ programmes around the country, it aims to leave a lasting legacy for Bradford families, and share lessons with other areas. Nine Better Start Bradford projects are already up and running (see below), with the rest due to be in place by mid next year.

Michaela Howell, programme director, Better Start Bradford, says: “It’s great to hear about the first few books being delivered to local families through Better Start Imagine, and their excitement about getting them. This project is a vital part of our work to support families in getting their children off to the best possible start in life – by helping families to be imaginative and creative together, and develop important literacy and communication skills. This project aims to make sure our local families have books in their homes to enjoy with their children, from a very young age. We’re engaging families in the Better Start Bradford area with new babies to encourage them to sign up to the scheme. We’re also appealing to families everywhere to bear books in mind in the run-up to the Christmas holidays – there are so many fun ways to engage children in book-related activities, and the holidays, especially during winter, are the perfect time. Books also make such wonderful and inspiring gifts for children of all ages.”

Rebecca Heald, language development programmes manager, BHT Early Education and Training, says: “As the first few books are sent out through Better Start Imagine, we’re working hard to ensure all families in the area who have new babies are signed up to this great project. We’re dedicated to helping children to be imaginative and creative and develop important, life-long literacy skills. Previous evaluation suggests our scheme can make a big difference to children and families, so we’re looking forward to rolling it out as part of the Better Start Bradford programme.”

Other Better Start Bradford projects already up and running:

  • Welcome to the World – friendly, local group antenatal sessions for pregnant mums and dads.
  • Talking Together – supporting two-year-olds in communication and language development through in-home visits to encourage play and conversation over a six-week period.
  • HENRY (Health Exercise Nutrition for the Really Young) – an eight-week course supporting parents to develop healthy lifestyles.
  • Baby Buddy app – free mobile phone app for parents and parents-to-be, with personalised content approved by doctors and midwives, from pregnancy to six months after birth.
  • Personalised Midwifery Care Pilot – ensuring women see the same midwife, with longer appointments, and enhanced support and information.
  • Family Nurse Partnership – a home visiting programme to support teenage first time parents and their children regarding health, wellbeing and self-sufficiency.
  • ESOL + for pregnancy – language courses for pregnant women with English needs, to help them engage with their midwife and be more in control of their pregnancy and labour.
  • Perinatal Support Service – providing emotional support to families under pressure during pregnancy and the first year after birth.


[i] Ridzi, F., Sylvia, M.R., Singh, S. (2014) The Imagination Library Program: Increasing Parental Reading through Book Distribution

Reading Psychology, 35(6), p548-576; see also Samiei, S., Bush, A.J., Sell, M., Imig, D. (2015) Examining the Association Between the Imagination Library Early Childhood Literacy Program and Kindergarten Readiness, Reading Psychology, pp.601-626.


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