The Doorstep Library Network was born out of a desire to bring the joy of reading to disadvantaged children in London. They operate in Hammersmith & Fulham and Westminster, with a brand-new hub launching in Lambeth in January. Their volunteers, armed with rucksacks of books, go directly into the homes of disadvantaged children in London and take turns reading to the children and hearing the children read aloud to them. There are currently 90 volunteers that are part of this arrangement benefiting 480 children from 220 families across the estates they work on. These weekly visits aim to foster a love of reading and improve the children’s reading skills over time. Not only do the children benefit, their parents frequently do as well.
Kirsty Allen, the Marketing and Communications Manager at Doorstep Library, was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about the impact they have on their community. Read her response below.
Why would you say you as a small charity make a big difference for the individuals you support?
The biggest difference we make is facilitating long term relationships between volunteers and the families we visit each week. Whilst our volunteers are initially drawn to the organisation because of their love of books and reading, it’s the relationships they foster with their families that make them stay year after year. Here’s one of our favourite quotes, written in a thank you card to a volunteer after 4 years of weekly visits:
“All thanks to you I love reading more and so does my brother. Thanks again for giving us free books which saved us money. You were great to me, Tom and my sister (plus my mum). My mum thank you too. And my family will miss you and someday you can visit.”
Because of the way we are set up and run, each project has a team of the same volunteers visiting the same families each week in the same area. Although each project has the support of Doorstep Library staff and expertise behind the scenes, each team really does feel like it belongs to the community in which it operates.
One of our long-term volunteers Laura said of DL: ““It is a small charity, which I feel punches way above its weight in terms of impact on the local community that it reaches.”
How does your support differ from larger organisations / public services? Would you say larger organisations have the same impact?
Our service differs because we deliver direct into the home, enabling us to reach those families that are socially isolated. Often, we complement the work of larger organisations and local authority services. For example, we have a signposting programme which really encourages families to get the most out of their local community services that are often designed to benefit them in particular.
For a variety of reasons, families can feel daunted at the prospect of taking up on services even though they are designed with them in mind. By having a conversation with our volunteers about say, a holiday activity in their local park, it can make it feel more accessible.
What is one of your most proud achievements as an organisation in the last year? What are you most proud of as an organisation?
Our proudest achievement is the high-quality service that we provide to everyone we work with, families and volunteers. One of our volunteers Dan said “It’s astonishingly well run. I’ve worked with much larger, more impressive type companies that are nowhere near as well run. That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because of hard working people who care. You are an inspiration to all organisations, large and small, the breadth of the country!” We are exceptionally proud that our volunteers feel supported and valued. We have volunteers who have been with us for five years or more.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a small charity? Have you overcome any of these challenges? If so, how
As a small charity looking to expand our work into new boroughs, after seven years and counting of consistent service delivery in Hammersmith and Fulham, one of the major obstacles we face is publicising our work with limited capacity, to both recruit volunteers and attract individual donors. We’re competing against much larger organisations. We have far less capacity and resources, but still need to bring in support and donations.