Changemakers: Unpacking the answer to book poverty

Dee-Dee Crosher learned that one in eight kids live in book poverty, not owning a single book. In the face of adversity, she set out to change that

How empty would life be without books? For Dee-Dee Crosher, founder of free reading subscription company Pathenaeum, the idea does not bear thinking about.

That is why the former talent agent launched an initiative that offers free book parcels to children in poverty.

She hopes to make a “profound” difference in the lives of disadvantaged youngsters.

Crosher had been working for renowned showbusiness talent agent Kenneth Earle, supporting stars from projects like Billy Elliot, Game of Thrones and Bridget Jones’ Baby.

But in 2017 Crosher’s life was tipped upside down when “mentor, friend and father figure” Earle died only weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Suddenly Crosher found herself at the helm. “I was a 27-year-old managing an international business, with people depending on me for their careers and guidance.

“The pressure and responsibility were staggering and it became very clear that I was working myself into the ground,” she says.

Crosher’s life was further complicated by a rare genetic condition broadly known as Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS). It has left her body unable to properly produce collagen, the material that makes up connective tissues.

Crosher’s ligaments are weak and stretchy and often her joints spontaneously dislocate.

Crosher, who had never taken a break from work since beginning acting as a child, stepped away from the agency. She had reached a crossroads in her life. And she was inspired to embrace another passion.“I was captured by classical educator Charlotte Mason’s ideas on reading and what books should be offered to children to read.

DID YOU KNOW…

The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.

“I started creating a list of books which I loved so I could purchase them for family and friends. I wanted their children to get the best start in life and discovering that reading is
the number one predictor in a child’s future success was a pivotal moment.”

Crosher learned that a staggering one in eight British children live in ‘book poverty’ and do not own a single book.

“I knew from my work with the Royal Variety Charity that so many people were struggling, often through no fault of their own, and worried about what this meant for these children who are completely blameless. 

“What can seem like small amounts of help can create waves. I wanted to see waves of positivity in communities across the UK. I always knew I wanted to do more, but now with time on my hands I could really focus on making a substantial difference.

It was to give access to the world’s very best books to every child

“It was then that Pathenaeum was first thought of,” she explains. “A private company whose mission was to eliminate book poverty in the UK.

“It was not good enough to provide any old books, but to give access to the world’s very best books to every child.”

The Birmingham-based team carefully tailor books to a child’s age and reading stage. They are not gender-specific and the hope is that all the books are fun for kids and parents alike.

Crosher says the subscription model was a way to break down the barriers facing parents who  might not be able to source affordable books.

Anyone can pay for a subscription for their own children, but half of all profit made by Pathenaeum – which roughly translates as ‘a path to a library’ – are paid forward to provide free subscription boxes for disadvantaged kids.

The books include classics such as Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo and Michael Bond’s Paddington series.

 Children eligible for the project can be nominated by professionals including social workers, youth workers, teachers, GPs and police officers.

“Once complete, we knew that there was nothing else like Pathenaeum on offer,” Crosher adds.

“We are so confident that we decided to bring in the happiness promise, where if any customer is unhappy with a book they can get a free one on us.”

To date, no one has needed a freebie.

“Parents are seeing what their children are capable of and are reaping the benefits.”