Reflecting on 2020

In 2020 the pandemic’s impact was felt globally, and all year we heard from our partners about children out of school who had no books and about libraries forced to close. Yet, we also heard of how our partners used the books we provided to fight for learning.

When I reflect on 2020, I will remember a difficult year – but also a year in which I was inspired by the determination of our partners, by the tireless work of our staff and by the generosity of our supporters.

I would like to personally thank every person who helped our charity continue its life-changing work in the face of truly unprecedented challenges in 2020. Your contribution is helping to create a book-rich world for millions.

The Rt Hon Lord Paul Boateng, Book Aid International Chair 

The effects of Covid

When the pandemic struck, we closed our London warehouse for two months and furloughed the majority of our operations and programmes staff. We focused on staying in touch with our supporters and partners so that as soon as it was safe to do so we would be able to resume providing books.

While Covid prevented us from delivering many of our planned programmes, slowed our book provision and book acquisition and challenged our fundraising, we were still able to make books available to an estimated 18.7m people in 2020.

Continuing book provision

Covid represented significant challenges to our core work of providing books, including to our ability to operate safely in our London warehouse and work with partners who were themselves experiencing the impact of the pandemic through school, library and office closures. But despite these challenges, we still provided 867,567 books to 108 priority partners in 19 countries and territories

Delivering projects and programmes

Throughout 2020, many of our partners wanted to continue with their planned work, so we worked with them to find ways of safely continuing to deliver projects and programmes together. With travel for in-person training impossible, we developed innovative new approaches to remote and online training which allowed us to train a total of 548 teachers and librarians

Keeping in touch

During the pandemic, we worked to keep our supporters connected with readers around the world who were often facing their own lockdowns, publishing stories from partners on our website and holding three online events. In total these live events engaged over 400 people and raised almost £2,000.

2020 in numbers


books available


people estimated to have access to books


countries and territories

Where we reached readers


public libraries


prison libraries


nurseries and primary schools


secondary schools


refugee camps


medical libraries


further and higher education libraries



Countries where we sent books

Sierra Leone70,506
South Sudan15,983

The types of books we provided

Children & primary

430,868 books

Leisure reading

129,867 books

Higher education and law

52,688 books

Vocational, technical & business

38,030 books


27,214 books

English language skills

26,213 books

Medicine & healthcare

75,353 books

Reference & Secondary

87,334 books

Building local capacity


local books purchased


school libraries created


teachers and librarians trained

Our impact on children

Encouraging a love of reading

In 2020 we provided 557,261 brand-new, carefully selected books for young readers. They included books to encourage reading and learning at every age – from picture books for the youngest children to revision support books for secondary school pupils. They are available to all in 530 public and community libraries in all of the 19 countries and territories where we work.

Supporting education

In 2020, we opened a total of 63 school libraries through our Inspiring Readers and Explorer Libraries programmes. In total, this work has provided books in the classrooms of 51,340 children in Uganda, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Zanzibar. In additional to brand new UK donated books, each participating school also received training for teachers and a grant to purchase locally published books.

Our impact on healthcare

Up to date medical books are essential in educating the next generation of healthcare providers and enabling practising professionals to provide quality care.

Yet around the world there is an acute shortage of medical texts. Supporting healthcare providers, educators and students by providing up to date medical books is one of our key aims. In 2020 we provided 75,333 brand new medical texts to hospitals and medical training facilities in 18 countries.

The books we provided in 2020 covered every stage of study and practice, including nursing and anatomy texts for students, practical guides for those practising in remote settings and advanced surgical techniques to support professionals. 

Our impact when disaster and conflict strike

Books for people living with conflict

In 2020, we worked directly with NGO partners who are supporting communities affected by conflict, offering books to ten secondary schools across South Sudan in partnership with Windle Trust International, sending 25,678 books to international NGO Syria Relief to support education for children affected by war and providing 1,315 books to secondary school pupils in Somalia through our partnership with Windle Trust Somalia.

Supporting refugee learning

In 2020 we provided 53,177 books to 20 partners across five countries to support refugee education. In Greece, we offered 5,520 books to encourage reading and learning. In Uganda’s Rhino Refugee Settlement we began work in establishing 41 libraries for children, and in Kenya’s Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps we donated 23,809 books which will be available to thousands of young people in 72 schools.

Lighting the way to learning

When electricity is unreliable reading and learning must end when the sun goes down. For everyone – but girls in particular – this can leave little time around chores for study and reading for pleasure.

In 2020, we partnered with Solar Aid in Malawi to create 17 Solar Libraries in the central Malawian town of Dedza. In total, we trained 70 teachers and school staff in how to use these books to support learning and provided 6,800 UK donated as well as 2,632 locally purchased books to offer thousands of pupils and their families the opportunity to borrow books alongside lamps.

While enabling children to read and study at home, the partnership also promotes clean energy, and we hope to expand the model in years to come.

Our supporters

We are entirely voluntary funded, supported by thousands of individuals and by organisations whose generosity makes our work possible. The support we receive enables us to deliver a wide range of work promoting reading around the world. 

In 2020 the UK publishing industry donated 756,554 books in total, valued at £12,850,101, enabling us to offer the opportunity to read to millions around the world. We would like to thank all our book donors but particularly Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Sage and Elsevier. 

Income for 2020

In 2020 we received cash income of £1,957,351, which was £322,907 below 2019’s income of £2,280,258.

Of cash income in 2020, £1,194,063 was unrestricted income which funded our work providing books around the world. Unrestricted income fell compared to 2019, when we raised £1,323,434, primarily because of reduced community fundraising activity during 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

Most other forms of unrestricted income held up well with individual giving income even coming in slightly above the 2019 figure. We received restricted income of £763,287 to support our projects.

Expenditure for 2020

Cash expenditure in 2020 was £1,902,852, substantially lower than the 2019 figure of £2,204,100. This reduction was related to the two month closure of our warehouse, termination of our evening shift, delays to projects that could not go forward because of the pandemic and reduced travel costs due to lockdowns. We anticipate returning to more normal expenditure levels in 2021.

The future

We believe that books and reading offer people the opportunity to shape their own futures: we exist to help people access books that will enrich, improve and change their lives. In the years to come, we know that together with our partners, we can do much more to support people and communities as they return to learning rebuild lost businesses and forge new routes forward to a more prosperous, sustainable future. 

But we cannot do this alone. We rely on our key supporters: the publishers who generously provide the books we donate and those who give money to enable us to send them. 

We are just one part of a very wide community of people who believe in the power of books to change lives and support effective and transformational change. We would like to thank everyone who has made our work possible in 2020 – and to invite you to join us in 2021 and beyond.

Alison Tweed, Chief Executive