As Dolly Parton prepared for her Glastonbury debut last month, the legendary singer formed a new partnership to give free books to children on a Hackney housing estate.
The Pembury Estate, part of the Peabody Housing Association, has joined Dolly’s ‘Imagination Library,’ which has registered 28,413 British children under five years old to receive a free book every month since launching in 1997.
Set up by Dolly to honour her father Robert Parton, who never learnt to read, the Imagination Library has put 65 million books into the hands of children across Canada, Australia and the UK.
The scheme enables parents or carers to sign their children up to receive a carefully selected book every month for the next three years. Since its launch in Hackney two weeks ago, almost 150 families have signed up.
Stephen Howlett, Peabody’s Chief Executive, said: “Dolly’s dad and the Imagination Library which Dolly set-up in his memory are nothing short of inspirational.
“Peabody is delighted to be working in partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to help our residents who might not otherwise access the enjoyment and knowledge books can bring. Books provide a mine of information and play an important part in increasing reading skills, education and the use of imagination.”
In an interview with Peabody, Dolly was characteristically modest about her role: “It makes me feel good but I don’t get too caught up in thinking that I am some high and mighty angel in all of this.
“At the end of the day, it is the family and the community that makes a difference in the lives of children. I feel blessed just to be a part of it. I want kids to love books, to have an emotional connection – even a reverence for books. There is one thing I know about all children – if they love something they will do it and if they don’t, they won’t.”
The singer’s involvement comes as a survey in the London Evening Standard highlighted that one in three children in Hackney and Tower Hamlets are starting secondary school with dramatically impaired reading abilities.
This means that they are on course to be “functionally illiterate” according to government guidelines, with one in three teenagers reading two books or fewer per year.
Ciara Sikder, mother of Amelia, four, and Suraya, two, from Pembury estate said: “I never would have thought that Dolly Parton would be involved in something like this, she’s amazing.
“The book reading service is very important to my family. I always read books to my children and the prospect of having new books delivered to us every month at no cost to us is very exciting. The first book we received was Peter Rabbit, which would probably cost at least £6 if we were to buy it in a shop.
“It is wonderful to have the opportunity to receive children’s literature literally on our doorstep. Both my children were delighted to receive their books addressed personally to them and are looking forward to the next one.”
Dolly Parton’s foundation pays for the administration of the book scheme, and the sponsor covers the cost of the books.
Julia Hickson, Communications Officer for Peabody, said: “It is hard to put a figure on Imagination Library’s involvement, what they do is buy books in bulk, which enables us to buy books at a discounted rate and forward to residents’ for free… it’s been received really well.”