Tameside Story Makers

Tameside Story Makers has weekly storytelling sessions targeted at preschool-aged children.

Tameside Story Makers began in 2017 with weekly interactive, performance-based storytelling sessions targeted at preschool-aged children. An annual theme is chosen and developed with a professional storyteller for up to 28 weeks and supplemented by an author and illustrator working with participants to create a themed picture book. This is then published and gifted to all participants and partner organisations and, is also, made available in all Tameside libraries. The Story Makers project, originally funded by the Arts Council England, is currently funded by the Tameside Community Safety Partnership.

Tameside story group with children on the floor

The challenge

  • low school readiness figures within Tameside
  • Tameside is an area of deprivation, with some families having limited access to cultural experiences
  • poor perception of libraries with some families
  • poor perception of authority figures, for example, the police
  • increasing active library membership of children and adults
  • increasing book ownership
  • reaching more vulnerable families 
  • increasing engagement with families with preschool-aged children through a community focus
  • engaging families with book design through a language and literacy focus
  • meeting the demand and popularity of the sessions.

The solution

  • Active promotion of the sessions to other services, for example, Homestart, health visiting teams, children’s centres and the early attachment service.
  • Offering a sustained and free cultural storytelling experience. This is sometimes supplemented by theatre and musical experiences.
  • The establishment of a Story Maker Steering Group (2021) with partners to review how we identify and engage with vulnerable families and develop the sustainability of the project.
  • The theme is identified with the Community Safety Partnership, which the storyteller interprets. Each theme is supported by a writer and illustrator working with the participants to design a children’s picture book for publishing. The children’s ideas and illustrations are incorporated into the books.
  • Each child participating (with either family or early years staff) receives a copy of the new book to own, which is signed by the author and illustrator.
  • Increasing access to libraries for families to break down negative perceptions.
  • Improving parental confidence to read and share stories with their children.
  • Active promotion of book borrowing (at no cost) during sessions. 

The impact

  • Increased access to Story Maker sessions - The Story Maker project started in 2017 with funding from Arts Council England to work with 25 families. The sessions soon became very popular, and demand was high. In response to this, we added additional sessions and changed locations to allow more families to attend sessions. In the first year of the project, we engaged with more than 300 families. 
  • Continuous increased engagement over a number of years - The number of children engaged with the project was much higher than expected, and families wanted to return with their children.
  • During 2020 sessions were delivered online as no face-to-face sessions could take place due to the pandemic restrictions. This opened a new avenue for children to participate via their early year's settings. Although some families left the sessions as restrictions lifted, a blended model is now in place, with over 400 children attending in 2021/22. 
  • An evaluation survey shows that 100 per cent of participants felt they were fully involved in developing the picture book (2021/22). 
  • 46 per cent of participants were new families who had never attended a Story Maker session in previous years. (2021/22). This allows a mixture of new and returning families an opportunity to meet and participate.
  • Positive feedback from parents and early years practitioners demonstrates how much the sessions are valued.
    “I love it so much I will go to different libraries and travel to go to Story Makers every week."
    “Children are more excited about books and choosing books themselves.”
    “The children love to attend.”
    “It is all they talk about."
    “The sessions are preparing the children for school, helping with their listening and attention skills."
  • Securing funding from the additional source - in response to the success of the project in its first year we then sourced funding from our Community Safety Partnership team to deliver the project. They have funded this project for four years. 
  • Engagement with early years providers - we were able to engage with school nurseries and early years settings. Going forward we decided to offer a blended approach of online and in-person sessions to enable work with early years settings to continue. This increases the opportunity to access stories and books for children who might not have these within their family circumstances. 
  • Increased library membership - families who attend the sessions do not need to be library members which removes a barrier to participation. We have found that both the parents and children attending the weekly sessions became library members. 28 per cent of adults and of 43 per cent children from the participants became library members during the sessions. 
  • Active borrowing of books while attending the sessions - Encouraging the habit of borrowing books regularly and families incorporating this into their routine.
  • Better perception of libraries and the services they offer.
  • Community links -better links with the emergency services such as the police, fire and ambulance service improving community cohesion.

Celebration event and book launch takes place annually for all participants and local dignitaries. 

Two adults holding two colourful books

How is the new approach being sustained? 

  • The Story Maker Steering Group will endeavour to secure funding.
  • To continue the Story Maker offer, external funding needs to be sourced, including fees for the storyteller, author and illustrator, publishing and printing costs. 
  • High demand means we are reliant on funding, so we are hoping to source a longer-term funding commitment, such as over three years, rather than applying for funding year on year.
  • Seek commitment from senior leaders to provide librarian resources enabling project management.  
  • The blended model will continue to be offered. 
  • We will need to succession plan and find a way to recruit more storytellers, possibly engaging with local drama students and youth theatre groups. 
  • Increasing relationships with local children’s authors and illustrators to harness opportunities for collaborative working. 
  • Continue to demonstrate impact to senior leaders and elected members through evaluation and invitation to celebratory events. 

Lessons learned

Through evaluations of the sessions, we have learnt that 

  • Sessions were reduced from one hour to half an hour due to demand with pandemic restrictions. This enabled more sessions to take place. Some families would like to return to hourly sessions.
  • To cope with increased demand, in 2021/22 families have been limited to 14 sessions of guaranteed places, with the opportunity to attend more if there is space. Families need to book in advance due to pandemic restrictions. The booking system creates a barrier for some families, whilst limiting the numbers appears to generate a better-quality experience. 
  • Huge demand for the sessions, but we are learning how to manage demand with available resources. 
  • Families would like more activities for under five’s in the libraries.
  • Families would like some sessions to be delivered after school and in the holidays, so school-aged children have a similar opportunity.
  • Families would like sessions accessible to all ages so they can bring all their children together.
  • Families would like some sessions for babies specifically as an option.
  • Families are continuing to return year after year, but we are also engaging with new families every year.
  • Families would like similar activities in other venues outside.
  • Families suggest coproduction of a promotion video to ensure that people know it is free and that libraries do not just have to be quiet places. 
  • Data - develop ways to further collect data about library membership using systems in place such as the library management system to enable tracking of library engagement with previous participants. 


Sarah Barlow