Dolly reading scheme loses funding
A reading scheme for children backed by country and western star Dolly Parton faces being axed after a council pulled its financial support.
The Imagination Library in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, was launched in 2007 as the first UK arm of a project set up in the US by the global star in 1996.
But the local council is withdrawing its funding of the project, which posts children a book every month up to the age of five, saying the £400,000 earmarked for the scheme to cover the next two years is needed elsewhere.
A spokesman for the Dollywood Foundation UK, which oversees the project for the singer, told the Sheffield Star it was disappointed by the decision, adding: "The programme has been successful and we hope parents and caregivers who value the programme will share their feelings with the council."
The paper reported that the programme has delivered 950,000 books since it was launched, reaching 85% of the town's under fives.
Parton, who wowed the Glastonbury Festival last year, visited Rotherham to launch the Imagination Library in December 2007.
The then Rotherham council leader Roger Stone was introduced to the scheme in 2006 when the town's chamber of commerce visited Tennessee with an international business group for women.
It was the first of what is now a group of 62 Imagination Libraries across the UK.
The current council leader, Councillor Chris Read, said today that the authority had been faced with making "difficult decisions" in its 2015/2016 budget, passed yesterday, and blamed Government funding cuts.
He said: "In addressing the cuts, we have responded to residents' priorities and sought to minimise the impact on frontline services where possible. Residents told us which areas were most important to them, and this has resulted in additional investment being put into children's services, extra street cleansing and resurfacing roads.
"We appreciate that many families have valued the work of the Imagination Library, but unfortunately the cuts to the council meant that we could no longer afford to fund it to the tune of £400,000 over the next two years."
He added that the scheme will continue until the summer.
A spokesman for the Dolly Foundation said: "Since the inception of the effort in 2008, over 950,000 books have been placed directly in the hands of Rotherham's preschool children and their families. We currently reach 85% of all the children under five in Rotherham.
"Internal and external research continues to affirm the positive impact the programme has on better preparing children for school.
"Over the years Rotherham has joined over 1,600 communities, both large and small, in four countries who have invested in their future by focusing on an early year's strategy.
"Globally, just under 830,000 children receive a book each and every month."