Castlegate Shopping Centre and Wellington Square shopping centres are located in Stockton on Tees in the heart of the North East England. Both centres have an active Corporate Social Responsibility strategy, with a clear objective to support and participate in the local community by engaging with local stakeholders in order to positively impact the environment, social needs and wellbeing of the community.
Stockton-on-Tees is in an deprived area of the country, with a large proportion of families where English is a second language and an extremely low literacy rate, with 1 in 4 children unable to read when they leave primary school.
The team therefore decided to focus on literacy as a topic for the CSR initiative. Working with local children and families also reflected the centre’s target audience, the ‘Family’ life stage, and meant that the centre could engage with many different community groups.
In April 2021 Castlegate and Wellington Square shopping centres launched their community literacy project, Stockton Stories, with two main purposes:
Stage 1: Creating the Book
It was really import to the team that the book was a community project working with local children, they wanted the book to appeal to a massive audience so agreed it would be compilation of stories by children of all ages rather than just the one story.
So they set out contacting local schools to enlist the help of their pupils to write about their experiences over the past year and what they would like children of the future to learn about the pandemic.
The centre team visited 4 local schools and held a further 5 assemblies via Zoom to explain the project to over 1,000 children.
The chosen charity partner to work with on the project was Bookmark, the reading charity. They are a literacy charity that give children the reading skills and confidence they need for a fair chance in life, through our flexible volunteer-led programme.
Their volunteers deliver 1:1 reading programmes for children aged 5-8 who are falling behind, so that they can gain the necessary skills and confidence to succeed in school and beyond. Volunteers book fun, flexible 30-minute reading sessions twice a week through the Bookmark app.
They provide much needed online reading support to children in schools across the UK, and with it being reported that one in four children had no schooling or tutoring at all during lockdown, there has never been a more crucial time to support children’s literacy and education.
At Bookmark, we want every child to read, and our work has never been more important. Even prior to school closures, eight children in an average class would leave primary school unable to read well and, during lockdown, 380,000 children were at home without a single book.
To help children with their writing skills the centre team produced some hand writing tips with advice on how to write the perfect story.
This information along with details of Bookmark and how they can support the schools literacy programmes were given to all schools and made available in the centres and to download from the websites.
Details of how the money raised from project would help the community was also included.
Stage 2: Production
Over 600 fantastic stories, poems and pictures were received. Entries came both from the schools that had been visited and directly to the centre following promotion in both centres and on their digital channels.
The centre team read through every entry and between them selected their favourite 50 to be included in the ‘Stockton Stories’ book. To ensure all the children were acknowledged a display of all entries was put in an empty unit window to showcase the wonderful work.
The book A5, 30 page perfectly bound book was then printed ready for the launch event and to start selling copies. The book included illustrations of characters that featured in the stories.
To thank the children for their contribution to Stockton Stories we rewarded all 50 budding authors with a book token to encourage them to continue reading, plus a certificate and their very own copy of the book.
As a thank you to the schools for their support and for encouraging their pupils to participate in the competition, the 3 schools that submitted the most entries also received a reward.
Each of the 3 schools received £100 to spend on books for their school library to keep their pupils reading.
Stage 3: The Launch
To celebrate the launch of the book, a two day event was held at the centres during the school holidays in June. The authors of the stories were invited to attend the event and read their stories to their friends and families in ‘Storybook Corner’.
To bring the book to life a selection of the illustrations from the book were made into cardboard cutouts to set the scene and event staff were dressed as the key characters to engage with families and read extracts of the book.
Children that attended the event were given a ‘Take and Make’ bag with all the equipment to make their very own bookmark to use when they read their copy of Stockton Stories. Over 100 copies of the book were sold at the launch events with all profits being donated to Bookmark.
We believe the Stockton Stories literacy project is a unique and highly creative campaign that addressed, and continues to address, a real challenge within our local community.
The idea of selling a book to raise funds is not new – but to enlist local children to participate in the creation of a story book about them and their experiences of lockdown, is an all-encompassing CSR campaign reliant on lots of creativity and passion from all parties involved.
The book has created a legacy that can be read by children around the world, now and in years to come as a record of what the coronavirus pandemic was like from the point of view of children.
The whole project was carried out on a shoestring budget of just over £6,000 including production costs and two launch events.
|Encourage children to get excited about literacy||Talked to over 1,000 children in assemblies about the importance of reading and writing|
|Generate positive press coverage worth at least £1,000||Attracted press coverage worth just shy of £13,000|
|Raise £200 for the chosen charity||Over £350 raised for charity and still selling books!|
|Involve the local library service||The book is now featured in nine libraries across the borough so that children can borrow Stockton Stories|
|Sell at least 100 copies of the book||Already sold 139 copies of the book sold since June|
|Work in partnership with at least 5 local schools||Worked in partnership with 8 local schools|
|Drive footfall to the centre in a safe way||On launch days footfall was up
Castlegate +8% WOW and +4% YOY
Wellington +14% WOW and +5% YOY
|Drive visitors to both website with an increase of 5% Y0Y||+138% increase in visitors to Wellington Square website YOY
+6.9% increase in visitors to Castlegate website YOY
|Increase social media followers by 2%||+13% increase in Wellington Square social media followers
+7.2% increase in Castlegate social media followers
|Increase social media engagement by 5%||+27% increase in engagements on W.Square social media
+15.4% increase in engagements Castlegate social media