Children whose fathers are serving a prison sentence are benefiting from a unique library initiative.

Red Lion Books in High Street, Colchester, has teamed up with Essex Libraries to donate 500 ex-World Book Day books from its stock for fathers to give their children to encourage reading as part of Family Library Time sessions at HMP/YOI Chelmsford.

The sessions offer children the opportunity to visit their fathers and develop their reading skills at the same time.

Anne Brown, Essex County Council’s cabinet member responsible for libraries, said: “The sessions offer a less daunting way for children to visit their fathers in prison, away from the large visiting hall.

“Research has shown that maintaining family relationships for a parent in prison plays a significant role in reducing the likelihood of re-offending.

“We are very grateful to Red Lion books for their donation as it means children will be able to continue reading after the visit.”

The owner of Red Lion Books and trustee of Essex Book Festival, Peter Donaldson, and Louisa Steel, manager of the library at HMP/YOI Chelmsford, came up with the idea at a recent book festival board meeting.

Speaking about the latest session, one eight-year-old girl said: “It was great.

“I had the best time with my dad. Thank you.”

One of the imprisoned fathers wrote a letter to the library supervisor after a recent session

He said: “To the lovely under-appreciated ladies of the library, thank you so much for everything this afternoon, it was perfect.

“I know that you put a lot of thought and time into making today very special and let me tell you, special it was.

“My lovely daughter has only been to the prison once before and she hated it, so for her to come today was both a big deal for her and for me.

“Once in six months is a very long time and is even harder for her.

“So thank you for making it so special. From the bottom of my heart thank you all so much.”

The Essex Book Festival takes place every March with events happening in venues across the county.

Visit for more information or for bookshop details.