Children’s authors and Duchess of Cornwall unveil school library in Wales

Ten-year-old Cassie-Ella, a pupil at Millbrook primary in Newport, south Wales, summed up the transformation of her school’s library neatly: “When I take a book off the shelf now, it’s not covered in cobwebs and mould.”

Millbrook’s library has been moved from the corner of a classroom into a prime spot in the school hall and is a bright, airy place filled with new books, beanbags, even the school dog, Taliesin (named after a sixth-century bard), all designed to provide a perfect place for a good read.

The library is among the first to be revamped as part of a campaign by the new Primary School Library Alliance to transform 1,000 school libraries across the UK by 2025. The alliance – a union between the National Literacy Trust and Penguin Random House UK launched last November – is tackling a chronic lack of investment in school libraries.

Schools are not statutorily required to have a library on their premises, and a report from the alliance reveals that four out of 10 in England have no dedicated library budget. Some respondents to the study said they were relying on donations from families or buying books from charity shops to stock their shelves. In general, the more deprived the area, the more chance of a school not having a worthwhile library.

The new library at Millbrook was being unveiled by a stellar cast including the Duchess of Cornwall, the author Cressida Cowell and the children’s laureate for Wales, Connor Allen. But the books were the real stars.

The headteacher, Keri Smith, said until recently the school had no proper library. “The stock was old, in poor condition, unengaging for children. We’re in an area of high social disadvantage where families don’t necessarily have books at home, so it’s important children have these new books and other resources, bright and varied, suited to every age and taste.”

She said the Covid lockdowns had led to falls in literacy levels. “So the library couldn’t have come at a better time.” The plan is also to open the library to the community so that parents, families and friends can borrow books, and to create an alfresco reading area.

The alliance is the first of its kind, bringing together private, public and third sector organisations, including Arts Council England and the digital bank Chase, to address the issue of library provision in primary schools. As well as providing books and other resources, it funds bespoke training for teachers to encourage reading.

The National Literacy Trust CEO, Jonathan Douglas, said: “The 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.”

Cowell said school libraries were life-changing places. “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?”

Connor Allen said libraries were a vital part of a child’s development. “My single mum living on a council estate couldn’t afford books. For me, libraries led to escapism and creativity. I owe my career to them.”

Zak, a 10-year-old librarian at Millbrook who regularly reads to younger children, did not need convincing. He loves the new library. “It means I can pick up a book and go to another world without anyone bothering me,” he said.

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