Children’s BookFest Chichester hoping to expand for 2021

After a successful debut last year, Children’s BookFest Chichester has taken on two key new members of the team as it plans to return even bigger and better for 2021.

Sunday, 3rd January 2021, 3:56 pm
Updated Sunday, 3rd January 2021, 3:58 pm
Ali Totman
Ali Totman

Ali Totman, a primary school teacher with over 20 years’ experience, has been appointed BookFest director. Also joining is Elaine Bentley who steps in as a trustee with responsibility for fundraising. Elaine comes with a wealth of crucial experience after spending more than 25 years at Pallant House Gallery as their head of development.

The aim is to share the joy of reading – and to make sure children own at least one book.

BookFest organisers hadn’t planned to offer a BookFest for 2020, but the intention is that it will become an annual event from 2021.

Next year’s dates will be from October 5-7. The hope is to reach even more schools than they did in October 2019.

Ali, who teaches at Lavant and West Dean and has always been English lead in the schools she has worked in, is already working on the new programme, contacting a number of authors who will visit more than 20 Chichester-area schools.

The essence of the festival is to invite authors to go into schools and meet and talk with pupils – and also to ensure that each child receives a dedicated and signed book by the end of day.

The festival team are committed to changing the grim statistic that “one in 11 children in the UK does not own a book (National Literacy Trust).”

“It is really exciting and a great thing to be part of,” Ali says. “It is lovely to bring books to children who would not perhaps otherwise own a book. We will be providing the authors and we will be providing the books for the schools. The schools pay for the authors and we pay for the books.

“We are going to focus on primary schools next year. We did some secondary schools last year, but we need to focus, but hopefully some of the workshops will be taken on by some of the secondary schools.

“We will go back to some of the authors we had last year. Some of them have done quite a few of the schools already. Last year we had about 16 authors, and they were so fantastic. They were so passionate. They were absolutely incredible.

“Next year we are hoping to be even bigger and better. One of the things that the authors said back to us was that they would like to meet up with each other at the end of the day so they can get together and chat about it all, so that’s what we will be doing.”

The big challenge will be funding the books – especially as the festival is looking at 3,000 children at least: “Elaine is going to be doing the fundraising for us. It is slightly open ended how much money we need because if we get more, we can get more books.”

Fortunately, in the current climate, they hadn’t planned on doing a festival for 2020, but the team had arranged for children’s author Jacqueline Wilson to come and do a fund-raising talk earlier this year which inevitably was cancelled. They are hoping it can be rearranged for next year.

In the meantime, Ali is encouraged by the fact that a survey determined that six out of ten children found that reading was really important to them during lockdown – something the festival will be keen to build on: “I think reading was an escape. They found comfort in their imagination through books. It allowed them an interest.”

The festival can take that further. As Ali says, the key thing is actually meeting the authors: “You really can’t beat actually having an author there. You get the children holding their signed copies and hugging them to their chests and they are so excited – ‘Oh! I have got my own book!’”

As part of preparations for next year, the festival has recently revamped its website: http://www.childrensbookfest.org