Photo of Beth Ginsburg and Ali Palmer, co-founders of Book Clubs in Schools, wearing jumpers and standing in front of a red background at a The Funding Network event

Left to right: Co-Founders of Book Clubs in Schools, Beth Ginsburg and Ali Palmer. Photo credit: The Funding Network

As part of our series of interviews with charity leaders doing great work with digital during the pandemic, we spoke to Beth Ginsburg and Ali Palmer, Co-Founders of Book Clubs in Schools, about how they used digital to bring the joy of reading to children during lockdown.  

  1. How has your year been so far? What are your plans for what you do next?

2021 has been so exciting for Book Clubs in Schools. We’ve launched a swathe of new initiatives, and leveraging the benefits of digital has helped us reinvent our services and reach new audiences.

When lockdown began, in March 2020, we were able to move our programme online very quickly. We retained our unique model of older pupils running the book clubs for younger pupils. Teachers were present on the calls so we could cover safeguarding.  For some schools, this worked well, but for others, where access to technology is an ongoing problem, we have provided books with the help of our charity partner, Give a Book. Schools could then deliver these books to pupils at home.

Covid gave us a chance to re-think our model and plan for the long term. We redeveloped our website and now have a dedicated subscription area that provides the programme resources for schools.

One of the upsides of pupils being at home was the chance to offer a new initiative: Mini Book Club – At Home. We teamed up with HarperCollins to deliver a 99p e-book and free resources for teachers to lead an online book club while pupils were at home. This culminated with a live Q&A with the author Penny Joelson on 24 March. It was run by Speakers for Schools, who made it possible for 1,500 young people to join the interactive session and ask lots of questions. This pilot project has led to the launch of the National Teen Book Club, an online book club for young people aged 14-19. The book club will allow the young people to read and discuss books together, plus listen to inspirational talks from writers. We will hold our first interactive meeting in June, and the clubs will run across the year.

This year we’ve also launched a Twitter chat. #SecondaryBookChat is a forum for secondary school teachers and librarians to discuss books and help promote reading for pleasure to their students.

Other developments this year included a new fundraising campaign, Adopt a Book Club. This appeals to members of adult book clubs to come together and fund a book club in a school.

We were also delighted that Alex Wheatle MBE became our patron. The author shares our vision that reading for pleasure can change the lives of young people.

The other good news is that we received a three-year funding grant from the Charity of Sir Richard Whittington, a registered charity of which the Mercers’ Company is a trustee. This grant will enable us to run our programme in six schools in London, starting in September 2021.

  1. How has Book Clubs in Schools had to adapt since the first lockdown? 

We had a plan to make all our resources available online to enable schools to run the programme more easily. The pandemic accelerated this process. In fact, we redesigned our website and created all resources required for the programme to be run and supported remotely. Through trialling online training and support, we realised that this worked very well, and this will become our delivery model post-pandemic.

  1. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

We would have put everything online much sooner. This approach allows us to bring Book Clubs in Schools to a larger audience. In fact, the programme can now be accessed both in the UK and beyond.

  1. What would you advise other charity leaders who will be growing their use of digital during 2021? 

Just do it! Some of the things we trialled such as an Instagram readalong were daunting but have led to real shifts in the way we manage the programme. This was also the forerunner of our very successful Mini Book Club project. A Twitter chat was a new initiative for us, but we have been joined by authors, and it’s proved very popular. The last year has taught us that everything is possible and to say we can do it, let’s just think about how!

  1. What do you think your charity will look like post-pandemic, and how will digital be part of your business model then?

We hope that book clubs will run in person in schools, but they can also run online using breakout rooms if required. We will continue to deliver the programme virtually and we are looking at ways to ensure that training for the Book Club Leaders is effective and fun. We also want to support schools in the best possible way, so we are currently reviewing our website’s user experience, and this research will shape how our digital model grows. The National Teen Book Club with Speakers for Schools will be entirely online.

Regardless of our delivery method, online or offline, our mission remains the same. We want to help as many young people as possible develop a love of reading and develop communication, leadership and social skills.

Find out more about Book Clubs for schools