Meet the funder: Siobhan Dowd Trust

The Siobhan Dowd Trust aims to support children and young people whose access to books and stories has been deprived. We asked director Kate Powling how it’s helping schools to promote reading…

What is the Siobhan Dowd Trust?

The Siobhan Dowd Trust is a small charity set up with the stated aim of ‘bringing books to the children who need them most’. The charity was established by the author Siobhan Dowd, who died in April 2007, aged just 47. In her final days, Siobhan set up this trust to use the proceeds of her work to fund reading projects for children. Siobhan wrote four children’s novels and one novella for adults. The trust benefits from the sale of these books, as well as two books written by other authors (Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls and The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stephens) that are based on Siobhan’s ideas.

How does the Siobhan Dowd trust benefit schools?

Schools are one of the main beneficiaries of our grants. In the past we have funded various schemes, but have recently started to favour funding books rather than building projects. We are currently running a scheme where we give schools the funds to take pupils to a local bookshop and choose books for their school. Teachers and booksellers are allowed to influence pupils’ choices, but we want the ultimate decision to be down to the children so they can experience the art of browsing and feel some ownership over the final selection.

We have pledged to give away £2,000 per month. Last year, 371 schools entered and shopping sprees were awarded to 34 primaries, 14 secondaries and seven other groups. The project is now in its third year, and our trustees have committed to fund the scheme until the end of 2019. Although this is our main project, we are open to looking at unique applications from a school if the idea is sufficiently innovative.

How does the application process work?

In accordance with Siobhan’s wishes, our funding process is very open, flexible and, we hope, simple. For a spree grant, applicants should send a short email to me (director@siobhandowdtrust.com) explaining what you do to encourage a love of reading in your school. We’re not looking for lots of educational information about progress, but rather a passion for reading. Insights and anecdotes about young readers work well to demonstrate this.

We appreciate there is a great deal of need, and we want the grant submission to detail what you plan to do to address this need, and what impact a grant would have.

We also ask you to provide your school’s FSM and PP figure as a percentage, as this helps us inform our decisions. A low number isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as we know those schools have less funding. Applicants don’t apply for a specific amount, as we allocate funds based on our analysis of the situation.

For grants other than a spree, you are welcome to email a brief outline first to see if your project is the kind we may fund. I then assess it and follow it up with a phone call if it sounds like something we may be interested in supporting.

Our trustees meet three times throughout the year to consider grant applications, and while we do consider applications at other times, we always prefer to meet up to discuss projects. We ask for all funding applications to be in three weeks before we meet. Our trustees include members of Siobhan’s family as well as prominent children’s writers.

What makes a successful application?

Firstly, enthusiasm and commitment – this always shines through in the applications we fund. We always need the school to have committed something, too. We know school budgets are tight, but we want Headteachers who value books and allocate part of the school budget to them rather than relying entirely on charities. 

Secondly, targeted at the right groups. We are open to applications from all state schools, but we like to see a specific group of children who need extra support in some way to be identified. This could include pupil premium children, children with parents away in the services, children in care, traveller children, children who speak English as an additional language and children with extra emotional needs or needs arising from a disability.

We have previously funded a project where pupils asked their librarian for more LGBT books as they didn’t feel what was on the shelves reflected their situation.

We avoid funding projects around one author or title as we like to encourage the reading of a variety of books in all their weird and wonderful forms. It also puts us off if our name is spelt wrong, so please spell Siobhan’s name correctly! Sorry, but fee-paying schools are not eligible for our grants.

What do you ask of successful applicants?

Where possible, we ask for publicity of your visit via the local press and on social media (this can be as simple as short updates on Facebook or Twitter). Afterwards, there’s a simple feedback form to find out if the grant encouraged the joy of reading, and if so, how? We appreciate honesty from those we have funded, and don’t mind if an ambitious project doesn’t quite work. We like feedback on how things could be done differently, so we can learn for the future.

Previously funded projects

‘Our book budget is low and our books were falling apart, so we decided to apply to the Siobhan Dowd Trust. The application process couldn’t have been easier. We just had to email the director with basic information about the school and our love of reading. I thought it would be wonderful to get a student to write it, so I worked with Year 9 pupil and student librarian Luca. It was great to show the impact the new books would have from a student’s point of view.

We took around 12 pupils to a local independent bookshop. Many of the students on the trip weren’t typical readers, which meant they were choosing books that appealed to reluctant readers. The bookshop gave us a generous discount so we could purchase even more books!

They chose some great titles and it was wonderful to boost the library with fresh stock. The children wanted to borrow the books they’d chosen, meaning the reluctant readers are now more engaged with reading.

With the money we’ve saved we’ve been able to pay for an author to come and work with disadvantaged students. It’s freed up so many ways to encourage reading across the school.’

Vicky Jarvis, Librarian, Patcham High School, Patcham, Brighton, East Sussex (1,035 pupils)

 

‘As a secondary special school for boys with social mental health needs, one of our biggest challenges is literacy, so anything we can do to get pupils reading is important.

We received £400 from the Siobhan Dowd Trust and we took a TA and two boys, one from Year 8 and one from Year 9, to a local bookshop to buy the books. We chose the boys from our literacy withdrawal programme for low-level literacy. Neither had been to a bookshop before or had the opportunity to buy books. We spoke to other pupils beforehand so we had a wish list, and then we just let the boys choose and pile up books on a table.

The new books have definitely helped pupils engage in literacy. I encouraged engagement by offering anyone who borrowed a book and wrote a review a token for our school reward scheme.’

Laura Allen, Literacy Coordinator, Lakeside School, Eastleigh, Hampshire (92 pupils)

‘As a pupil referral unit, lots of our children have extra literacy needs. Because of the limited books we had, there wasn’t always the right book to fit the pupil, so we needed funds to invest in dyslexia-friendly books.

So many grant applications require you to bend to fit the criteria, but to apply to the Siobhan Dowd Trust we just had to email the director and explain what we wanted and how this would benefit pupils.

With the £650 we received we visited an independent bookshop with six students. They loved the experience and enjoyed being responsible for a pot of money. It bought them together as a team and helped them to appreciate the books. With the rest of the money we’re planning to invite a book rep to bring books to us so students who aren’t

able to go on trips can still enjoy the buying experience.

The books have had a real impact for us. Because there’s now a wider choice and the children chose the books themselves, they’re really enthusiastic. One of the students who went on the trip has since returned to mainstream education, and the experience was a step that helped his confidence grow as he began to get back into books.’

Carole Oldfield, Librarian, Newhaven Pupil Referral Unit, Eltham, London (70 pupils)

Find out more

Visit siobhandowdtrust.com for more information.

We now have more than 210 grants for education listed on our database – worth an incredible £12m! To search these funds sign up to FundEd for just £90 +VAT a year – funded.org.uk/sign-up.