Culture & Creative IndustriesNews

Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival is delighted to announce that it has been awarded funding through the Arts Council National Lottery Project Grants programme to develop its transformative Bedtime Stories project.

The £15,000 grant will enable the charity to extend the reach of the Bedtime Stories project – which builds literacy skills and encourages important family bonds through storytelling – to families living in areas of disadvantage and to more families affected by a parent being in prison.

Since launching in 2017, the Bedtime Stories project has worked with 9 schools and 12 prisons, reaching more than 1000 families.  With this funding, the Festival will be able to deliver the project in a further 5 schools with above average pupil premium rates and to provide a further 12 workshops for prisons, reaching a further 1000 families.

Devised by Stratford Literary Festival’s founder and director, Annie Ashworth, the Bedtime Stories project encourages parents and carers to read to their children, helping to develop and reinforce literacy skills and, importantly, helping to build vital bonds.

In schools, the Festival invites children in years 1 to 3 and their parents or carers to write a bedtime story together.  The families are then invited to an after-school Bedtime Story Party, for which they are all encouraged to wear pyjamas and bring a favourite cuddly toy, where the Festival creates a bedtime atmosphere with hot chocolate, blankets and pillows.  In addition to sharing some of the stories they have written, the families hear from a well-known children’s author who reads and talks about their work.  The parties aim to show parents in a gentle, non-judgemental way the pleasure gained from sharing stories.

In prisons, the Festival organises author-led workshops and, over the course of a day, participants are helped to create their own bedtime story for their children which they can subsequently give to their children on visits, read over the phone or record themselves reading – working with the Storybook Mums and Dads recording initiative.  The stories, which are unique to the participant and their child, are edited and designed so they can be sent to the child and treasured.

The bond between children and parents in prison is recognised as hugely influential in the well-being of children with parents in prison and in the rehabilitation of prisoners: children of prisoners have around three times the risk of antisocial and delinquent behaviour, mental health problems and other adverse outcomes, compared to their peers[1] and prisoners who maintain contact with their families are up to 6 times less likely to re-offend[2].

Commenting, Annie Ashworth, says:

“Demand for this work is increasing beyond our resources, and we are very grateful to the Arts Council for recognising the value of our work and for enabling us to extend our impact through this grant.”

“Our charity aims to engender a love of books, and to promote the value of reading and writing as a means of improving communication, life skills and well-being.  Our festival education work is at the heart of what we do, and for families we have a particular focus on encouraging parents and carers to read to their children because it is during this valuable time together that parents and carers bond with their children, develop literacy skills and gift them a passion they will have for life. It has long been recognised that reading and reading with and to children has immense benefits for well-being, literacy and educational outcomes.”

Peter Knott, Area Director for Arts Council England, said:

“Reading has the power to transport us through time and space, opening up windows into other worlds and cultures, and this can be particularly transformative for children.”

“For children who have a parent in prison, sharing a bedtime story is a vital way to strengthen family bonds, so we’re pleased to support Stratford Literary Festival’s Bedtime Stories through the National Lottery, as they create safe spaces and innovative ways for families to connect and spend quality time together, discovering and rekindling the joys of storytelling.”

Jane Wright, Learning Skills and Employment Manager at HMP Drake Hall, where the Festival has run two workshops, said:

“We know that family relationships are key to preventing reoffending and a project like this helps to maintain that all important connection between parent and child.  This support is vital for children during a difficult time and reminds mothers of their purpose, giving both hope for the future.”

For further information:

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Photo: Rupert Barnes Photography


[1] Social Care Institute for Excellence

[2] Storybook Dads