Siobhan Dowd was a writer of novels for young people, who died from cancer aged 47. There aren’t many novelists who have won awards for every single book they’ve written, but Siobhan Dowd’s name is on that list. Amongst other accolades, her books have won the Carnegie Award (2009), the Branford Boase Award (2007), and the Red House Children’s Book Award (2008).
As well as writing, Siobhan was something of an literary activist, working not only against censorship, but also for the human rights of writers in Indonesia and Guatemala. In the UK she was committed to working with children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds; she co-founded a program which takes authors into schools in socially deprived areas, as well as prisons, young offender institutions and community projects.
In the very last days before she died Siobhan set up The Siobhan Dowd Trust with the specific aim of bringing books and reading to UK kids who might not otherwise have access to great books and inspiring authors. The Siobhan Dowd Trust exists to fund any person or groups that:
Playing by the book: Kate, could you tell me a little about why Siobhan set up the trust in her name? What was it that inspired her to do so?
Kate, Director of the Siobhan Dowd Trust: Siobhan set up the Trust just before she died. Her life was spent working for charities and then writing – so the Trust was a way to bring together the things she cared about. I don’t know where the inspiration came from: perhaps her extraordinary generosity and belief in the power of books and reading to help children who most need help.
Playing by the book: What sort of projects has the trust already funded? What sort of projects would the trust like to fund?
Kate: The trustees of the fund wish to fund start up innovative schemes, where a small grant will act as “start-up” or seed money to grow into something bigger and ideally self-sustaining. We also want to encourage scattered groups to work together to learn from each other, not act in isolation or in competition with each other.
Our biggest grant so far is to Letterbox Green, which sends books to young adults in care (more information about this project can be found here). Booktrust had successfully launched a younger version, but the Trust was approached to fund a pilot designed to see if it would be successful with teenagers. Only 60 children across 12 regions took part initially, but it was so well received that after the pilot councils signed up over 600 children for the next year.
Since then we have made lots of small grants that make a difference and get a project going: an anti-library cuts flash mob screened a film onto the walls of the British Library with equipment hire paid by the Trust; an East London book festival was helped by supplying books; in Oxfordshire we have helped fund a project that organises book groups during the school lunchtime. And there are some very exciting projects in the pipeline I think!
Playing by the book: At the moment the trust has a special schools campaign on the go – what is the aim of this campaign and how can people get involved?
Kate: The trust wants to help disadvantaged and hard to reach children, and the feeling of Trustees is that schools can be a crucial way to reach these kids: so much good work is going on, and we’d like partly to celebrate this good work, and also to facilitate schools learning from other schools and copy what has worked well elsewhere. We have emailed 28,000 schools and asked them to tell us simply in an email what their school does to encourage a love of reading.
Some schools have answered with huge long lists of all they do; some with one simple initiative. There have already been some terrific responses: secondary schools running speed dating sessions for books, primary schools having torchlit night-time story sessions, extreme reading photo competitions, boxes of books readily available in school playgrounds, and many more!
The suggestions will be built into a database of ideas and resources later this year and judged by our panel of experts which includes Michael Rosen (a former Children’s Laureate), Julia Eccleshare (The Guardian newspaper’s Children’s Book Editor) and Danny Hahn (an author and translator who was one of the co-editors of The Ultimate Book Guide, a series of reading guides for children and teenagers). 10 schools will win £1000 worth of books in September.
Playing by the book: Wow, Kate, this sounds like an amazing project. I see that the closing date for entries from schools is July 31st, and that full details are all on the Trust’s website here.
It sounds like the Trust is already quite busy, but what are the Trust’s future plans? How does it hope to grow?
Kate: Right now we are a very small Trust funded mostly by the income from the sales of Siobhan’s books. This size can be an advantage as we are very independent and can act quickly when we see a need – we recently had a grant application to supply books so children from a disadvantaged background could take part in the Oxfordshire Book Award. Trustees made the decision and I was able to get the books into schools within a fortnight so there was plenty of time for reading and judging.
In the future and to grow we will need to look into getting new funding sources. Tony Bradman (the Trust’s Chairman) and I are currently working on a 3 year plan: we have a couple of projects in mind which will build on the schools project.
Playing by the book: That sounds very exciting. So Kate, how is the trust able to do all this great work? You mention new funding sources – how indeed is the Trust funded? Can people donate funds to the trust, and if so, how?
Kate: The resources we have are the advances and royalties from Siobhan’s books. The public are also welcome to donate – details can be found on the Trust website here: www.siobhandowdtrust.com/get-involved/
Playing by the book: Do you think Siobhan would be proud of the work being done by the Trust?
Kate: I hope so! I never knew Siobhan, but most of the Trustees did – we have her friends & work colleagues, Agent and Publisher as well as her sister Denise and they all often refer to Siobhan when making decisions – she’s very much present. Her family (a close London Irish family of 4 sisters) are very supportive and proud of her work and very active in supporting the Trust.
Playing by the book: Thank you Kate for joining me today on the blog. It’s a pleasure to spread the word about The Siobhan Dowd Trust. I’m delighted that there is such support available for people doing exciting projects getting kids enthused about reading.