New year and new doorways to reading together. As 2021, and a new national lockdown begins, I wanted to take a bit of time to reflect on what this past year has meant for Doorstep Library, and the families we work with. We made the decision early on in the pandemic to keep all staff engaged, we knew it would best serve the families we work with to continue to support them by meeting our charitable aims, albeit in a different way entirely, but with the same love and enthusiasm we always bring. We are delighted that the new year will bring the opening of new doorways and new ways of reading together.
By Katie Bareham, Doorstep Library Director
Last year was a difficult year for so many in our society. Whilst the pandemic has been challenging for everyone in some way, and there has undoubtedly been the sense of us all being in this together, it has not affected everyone equally. Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (1) showed that the crisis hit the incomes of the poorest households the most, and minoritised communities have experienced disproportionately high coronavirus infection and mortality rates. We wanted to be able to offer a connection to “normality” for our families, and felt we could do this best by continuing to offer our services to them (although somewhat adapted).
For the Doorstep Library team, like so many others, high levels of home working have blurred the boundaries between personal and professional lives. The normal ways to check in with our colleagues – such as face-to-face working – have disappeared. This has meant that mental health has very quickly been impacted (the charity Mind found that nearly two-thirds (60%) of people reported that their mental health had worsened during the pandemic (2)). As the head of the organisation, I have been mindful of ensuring my team know that their wellbeing is the most important thing, and that as an organisation (and an individual) I want to support them as much as I can. We don’t have a big budget for staff wellbeing, so this has mainly been through flexible working, holding additional team meetings to ensure we are all connected to the ever-changing tasks needed to adapt to new regulations, and bi-monthly coffee mornings where the team can “meet up” to discuss anything but work. We have also taken our book club online as well as hosting a number of successful quiz nights. I have also been open about the challenges I have faced, especially around the parent/teacher/charity leader balance! I think it is important to be honest about your own juggling act, to enable others to speak openly and to be able to ask for help when it is needed. I am definitely still learning about how to be a charity leader during a global pandemic, but above all else I hope my team know I am there if they need me.
This academic year marks our 10th birthday at Doorstep Library. Whilst we have not been able to celebrate this landmark year in the way we had hoped, it has nevertheless been a year during which we have achieved so much. Even in these stormy times we continue not just to operate, but to grow and to adapt.
Our biggest achievement has been that, no matter what the circumstances, we have supported children and families who already face disadvantage. The team have worked tirelessly this year to make sure that our families come first, and there have been other successes too. We saw an incredible Big Give campaign raise over £100,000, we gifted 1,072 brand new books directly to our children at home in lockdown, we built a bank of 195 storytime videos for families and we won Best Charity Film at the Third Sector Awards with our short film #WordsTakeYouPlaces.
It is hard for any of us to predict what 2021 will bring, but I know that the amazing Doorstep Library team will continue to ensure we can still share stories with children, and that the families we work with can feel connected and supported. We have been working over the past few months to adapt to a new online model, to offer reading sessions to our families during lockdown but also with an aim of engaging with even more children than we are currently able to (geographically). I am very excited that we will be launching the new Doorstep Library Online Reading Corner to families over the next few weeks, expanding as we go to add more children to our weekly, interactive, story sessions. With the advent of a new lockdown, and schools no longer open to the majority of children, we know that children (and their parents) can benefit from fun story time with our enthusiastic volunteers. Initial feedback from our pilot sessions has been really positive:
“Thank you so much for making it possible for my children to join the free online zoom sessions – the kids really enjoyed every moment of it. I highly appreciate your support through these trial moments.” Doorstep Library parent
I will enter the New Year with the same mentality as I enter every New Year, with hope for a society in which we are all treated equitably, with those in need of additional support able to access it freely and without judgment. This year I was also be hoping not to do any more zoom calls with my children in the background, but I guess that one will have to wait a little longer!
- Institute for Fiscal Studies – The effects of coronavirus on household finances and financial distress June 2020
- Mind – A survey of over 14,000 adults by the mental health charity Mind has revealed that existing inequalities in housing, employment, finances and other issues have had a greater impact on the mental health of people from different Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) groups than white people during the coronavirus pandemic. July 2020
To read more about ways in which you can help your child to engage with books and reading during lockdown see our blog: Stay at home with Doorstep Library.