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Bag Books

December 7, 2010

Bag Books has brought the pleasure of storytelling to children and adults with severe and profound learning difficulties. The 17-year old charity in south west London creates simple stories on cards which it brings to life by using props such as bells, whistles, fur and bubble wrap. So far the charity has written 39 stories and produced 10,000 Bag Books which are used by 15,000 people every year across the UK. “In some ways the story itself isn’t important: it’s more about having interesting objects, getting things which are interesting to touch and smell, which make sounds and actions and stimulate the senses,” says Bag Books chief executive Dean Casswell.

    As well as producing the books – which take eight hours to make, the charity’s trained storytellers have taken the books into 130 special schools. “Most schools told us the children benefited from the experience, they really enjoy themselves,” says Casswell.

    Bags Books has also run storytelling sessions exclusively for small groups of children with severe and profound learning difficulties in their own local library. So far 225 libraries have taken part. “The project bring children out into their community and gives librarians a chance to meet them. At the end of the session, the librarians also have a quick 90-minute training session on how to be a storyteller with the hope that they can be one,” Casswell says.

    The charity has also been doing long-term training with 90 libraries in England.

    “The training took me out of my comfort zone,” says Emily Jacques, a young person’s librarian at Watford and Three Rivers libraries run by Hertfordshire county council. “Everything was very tactile. You had to jump up and perform, it was more like being a children’s television presenter than a librarian where you usually ask the children to sit down and listen to a story. The shared experience of a story is part of who we are, it’s how we learn about ourselves. Bag Books gives children the space to be part of that.”

    Casswell says winning the award is “fantastic”. “It makes a big difference if more people are aware of us.”

    The charity plans to use its £6,000 prize money to launch its Tall Stories project which aims to take Bag Books to more adults with learning disabilities. It intends to work with six day centres in UK, training staff to become story tellers.

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