On the Breadline: Bedtime story under the street lamps from the doorstep army

Yetunde with her two sons   (ES Composite)
Yetunde with her two sons (ES Composite)

At a time when keeping the house warm feels like a luxury, paying for after-school clubs for four children is not an option for Anthonia. With the cost of living soaring, the single mother narrowed down her priorities to two things: food and shelter.

The Brixton mother works part-time, but the money she earns does not stretch enough to enrol her school-aged children in the classes they want — and with free activities increasingly difficult to find as funding is cut, her children feel frustrated.

Anthonia said: “When I cancel something such as their swimming lessons, they want them to be replaced by something else. They see so many things being taken from them. They don’t understand when I say it’s because the cost of living is going up.”


Rising household bills have stripped many parents of their capacity to keep their children engaged outside school hours. So, when volunteers from Doorstep Library arrive at the homes of families like Anthonia’s for weekly reading sessions, it is not rare for a parent to say, as Anthonia often does: “Just when I need you, there you are.”

CEO Katie Bareham said: “We have mothers who say, ‘You are the only adult I’ve spoken to all week’. A lot of our families are socially isolated, so bringing volunteers into homes is great for not only the children but parents, too. It helps them feel part of the community.”

Doorstep Library provides 20 home-reading projects to support primary school-aged children living in poverty on deprived housing estates across five London boroughs — Lambeth, Camden, Ealing, Westminster and Hammersmith & Fulham.

They aim to instil a love of reading in the children. Their ultimate goal is to encourage parents to adopt a daily habit of reading aloud with their children, making it a norm in the family’s routine.


The charity is one of the organisations we will be seeking to fund in our On the Breadline Christmas Appeal in partnership with the Childhood Trust.

Ms Bareham added: “It’s about bonding and quality time. It’s that time when a family can sit together and enjoy the book and momentarily forget about their stress, a time to have some fun as well as make real academic progress.”


Quality time with the children can be hard to achieve if the parent is consumed with worries of putting food on the table, the CEO said.

Volunteers have sat under street-lamps reading with children because the families can’t afford to put the lights on indoors. When they notice a home is struggling like this, they sign-post them to local services that can support them and help families to access what they need.

“If the parent feels better supported and less stressed, they are more likely to give their child that time. While they are lost in a book together, they aren’t thinking about the different stresses they have to battle — and that can help both the parent and child’s wellbeing.”

Yetunde has two boys who have benefitted from the charity. She said. “When the volunteers are here, I can finally sit back and make a cup of tea. Doorstep leaves books here for the boys to read. They absolutely love the sessions and their confidence has grown so much. I wouldn’t cope without them.”