Scottish Book Trust: Having books in a house is a good, if not vital, thing - Marc Lambert

Though it is nearly two years on from the first pandemic lockdown of March 2020, I’m sure that strange moment remains firmly etched in all of our minds.

We will recall the mad scramble to reorganise our businesses and working lives online, with little or no time to adjust, and the myriad professional, family and personal challenges that lockdown brought in its wake (and it is not over yet).

All of this was played out, moreover, against the eerie backdrop of utterly deserted streets and cities, increasing our sense of sudden and tremendous isolation.

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At Scottish Book Trust, our attention was naturally turned towards this issue. Driven by the social and economic crisis unfolding before us, we thought of what lockdown would mean for families in Scotland who were already having to use foodbanks to survive.

Marc Lambert. Picture: Graeme O'Hara

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When we looked into it, we discovered that, according to Trussell Trust, since 2016 the need for foodbanks had increased 128 per cent. (It is also salutary to know that between April 2020 and March 2021 demand foodbanks rose a further 33 percent). What this means in absolute numbers is that, in 2021, 2.5 million food parcels were given out across Britain – and this in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Given that schools, libraries and other common amenities were all closed, further isolating these already isolated – and for the most part invisible – families, we decided that, as champions of the book and the power of reading, we would have to do something about it. That was when we started campaigning, and talking to publishers about books, so that we could supply them to families across foodbanks in Scotland.

The response we had both from publishers and the general public has been wonderful and uplifting, allowing us to distribute an astonishing 200,000 quality titles to families in distress over the last two years.

As the many insightful comments left for us by donors to our campaign illustrate, people in Scotland instinctively know that having books in the house is a good, if not vital, thing – and not just for themselves, but for everyone.

Our Patron, the writer Val McDermid, recently reflected: “It’s not rocket science to work out that putting books in the hands of children is the first step on the road to breaking the cycle of deprivation and poverty. It’s not always easy to work out the best way to make beneficial interventions in people’s lives. But this one is a no-brainer.”

Books are the prime gateway to knowledge, information, imagination, fun and self-improvement, and everyone in Scotland should have the opportunity to benefit from them.

While we were proud in 2020 to have managed to supply books in the midst of all the complications of lockdown, in 2021 we decided to up the ante by handling distribution directly ourselves. This has enabled us, to respond to orders from foodbanks for books by specific age range, making the gifting more precise and appropriate. This year, we also added a selection of books for adults into the mix and developed a more sophisticated campaign to alert people across Scotland to what we are doing and why.

In this we were helped massively by Macmillan Children’s Books, and author and illustrator Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Their response to our idea of using artwork from The Gruffalo for our campaign was immediate and remarkable.

Julia put it this way: “I have read and performed my stories to many children in Scotland and when The Gruffalo was published, I was writer-in- residence at Easterhouse in Glasgow. I have seen first-hand how books can light up a child, catch an imagination and change a life.

"A lot of the work I have done has been alongside Scottish Book Trust and I have seen the important and effective work that they do for children and families throughout Scotland. I couldn’t be more pleased that The Gruffalo is now leading a fundraising campaign for the charity at a time when families need books and support more than ever.”

Given that this need is not going away anytime soon, we will be continuing our campaign over 2022 to help and most vulnerable in our society. We will also be engaging with foodbanks across the country to see what other help we can offer to families living in real hardship, as we have a lot to offer. In doing so, we are merely fulfilling our mission as a charity.

The real heroes here are all the donors and campaign partners who continue to support us so generously, and most especially all those who work or who volunteer at foodbanks, often in really freezing conditions, to ensure that the families they serve can survive, and one hopes, prosper (with a book in hand).

It is worth pausing for a moment to acknowledge this extraordinary work, since in Scotland, in one of the most highly developed countries in the world, it remains largely and scandalously invisible, as do those in need themselves.

And yet, through this charitable network of foodbanks around 300,000 families are being helped. It is sobering to realise that in about half of these families, there is someone actually working.

As a society, we have to do better, and be fairer, than this – our campaign is one way in which we can all put our shoulders to the wheel.

Marc Lambert

CEO Scottish Book Trust

Message from Catherine Salmond, Editor, Scotland on Sunday

Last month we asked you – our readers – to help us support Scottish Book Trust to fundraise for new books for children across Scotland in time for Christmas.

The response was fantastic and I would like to thank you for your generous donations.

Thanks to you – and all those who backed the campaign across the country – the trust was able to gift books to families reliant upon food banks over the festive period.

Today, Marc Lambert – Scottish Book Trust CEO – writes on the success of the campaign, but how its vital work must to continue to ensure children across the country, regardless of their family’s financial circumstances, can enjoy the power of reading and all the immeasurable benefits that can bring to their lives.

And so this campaign will continue throughout 2022 to support the most vulnerable in society – and I urge you all to help where you can.

Scotland on Sunday believes that access to books is fundamental to the educational and emotional wellbeing of a child, enriching their development, and offering endless hours of escapism and fun.

We were proud to back the Christmas campaign and will continue to support the work of Marc and his team wherever possible.

To offer your support, please visit Scottish Book Trust’s website (www.scottishbooktrust.com).

Many thanks,

Catherine Salmond

Editor, Scotland on Sunday

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