Bookstart: the first national bookgifting programme in the world.
Bookstart: the first national bookgifting programme in the world.

Bookstart: the first national bookgifting programme in the world.

Bookstart 1992: Piloting Bookstart and early research findings

Book Trust initiated Bookstart in Birmingham in 1992, working with Birmingham Library Services, South Birmingham Health Authority and Birmingham University School of Education. The pilot project involved 300 babies.


Book Trust commissioned Professor Barry Wade and Dr Maggie Moore to both promote and research the Bookstart project. The project built on previous research which identified the significance of reading with very young children.

The findings were impressive – Wade and Moore found that Bookstart children began school with significant advantages and with higher attainment in all aspects of the nine pre-school baseline assessments.


Find out more about Wade and Moore's findings, plus other research

1992–1998: Early days

Following the dissemination of the Wade and Moore research, the importance of book-sharing was increasingly recognised. Between 1992 and 1998 over 60 small pilot projects were developed, often using European Social Regeneration Budget funding and targeting babies in socially deprived areas.

1999–2000: Sainsbury’s plc

Following the first National Year of Reading in 1998 Sainsbury's plc chose to sponsor Bookstart as their Millennium project in 1999–2000. They were looking for a project for children that was about learning and which would leave a legacy for the 21st century.  Sainsbury’s sponsorship allowed Bookstart to develop its offer nationally. 

1999–2000: Local authority and health services buy-in

By 1999, virtually all local authorities were eager to participate in the Bookstart programme, with a willing member of library staff taking responsibility for being a ‘Bookstart Coordinator’ within their authority. Libraries’ enthusiasm, combined with the support of Sainsbury’s meant that by March 2000, 92% of local authorities had joined the programme and Bookstart became the first national bookgifting programme in the world. 


The Department for Education provided some funding in 2000–01 to support the search for another funding source and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport underpinned the programme in 2001–02 and 2003–04.  During this time, Book Trust developed an innovative new model of partnership with children’s publishers and started to produce Bookstart packs at a nominal cost. 

2004–05: Universal provision

In July 2004 the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, announced funding to extend the Bookstart scheme to enable universal provision of free books to every child at three key stages: Bookstart Baby Pack for children up to 12 months, Bookstart+ aimed at toddlers, and My Bookstart Treasure Chest for 3- to 4-year-olds.

Consultation with partners led to resounding support for the extended programme from children's publishers who contracted to support Bookstart for a further three years.

Bookstart Today: a public/private partnership without parallel

The Bookstart programme is founded on community partnerships and Corporate Social Responsibility: nationally, it is coordinated by Book Trust; locally, the schemes are coordinated by the library service in cooperation with early years settings and health professionals.

The programme is funded via catalyst funding from government (20%) which is used to enable corporate support from children’s publishers and the book sector (80%). In difficult financial times this sustainable model has much to recommend it and actually puts more into the taxpayer’s purse than it takes out.