“COVID may have thrown us a curveball, but Boromi and I emerged more dedicated to our mission than ever,” says Evie Keough, creator of the pioneering non-profit play library network.
Working closely with educational and community organisations across the UK, Boromi is committed to empowering parents and caregivers to nurture the early learning and development of children through shared play and interactions. Recognising the critical importance of the first five years of a child’s life, Boromi is dedicated to making a positive impact on the future of our children and communities.
With 65 primary schools currently participating in the programme, Boromi is on track to achieve its goal of reaching 200 educational settings over the next few years. As the organisation continues to grow, it is excited to explore scaling impact through piloting a community-based model, bringing its unique approach to early childhood education to community settings such as libraries, food banks and children’s centres.
When asked about her inspiration for the project, Evie shared, “I have always been deeply passionate about the early years and the impact of the first five years on a child’s long-term development. The research is strong in showing that this is the greatest window for change, and that what’s happening at home has the biggest impact upon outcomes all the way to the age of 18 – over and above what happens in the classroom. For me, working as a primary school teacher, this really stuck with me.”
“This early realisation sparked my obsession with finding ways to support parents and families to nurture their child’s development at home. Early iterations of Boromi were wallets or simple ‘borrowing baskets’ of play materials for families to take home and use together. Seeing the immediate impact and demand for these, is when the idea for Boromi was born.
In 2019, Evie received funding from SHINE for a two-year evaluation project of the Play Libraries programme. However, there were some setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the project was paused. In the meantime, with support from SHINE, Evie developed a new programme called ‘Keepmi’, which could be delivered directly to families’ homes whilst schools were closed. Fast forward two years and Boromi is now back up and running, with their largest cohort yet. The evaluation project was restarted in September 2021 is now well into its second year, which is helping Evie and her team to understand the impact of the programme and how to continue to improve it.
Speaking about the support she has received from SHINE, Evie said, “At Boromi we are so grateful for the support of £20,000 over two years from SHINE to complete an evaluation project of our Play Libraries programme. We have been able to revise our theory of change and create an evaluation framework and tools.
“Not only has SHINE provided financial support, but they have also gone above and beyond in providing emotional and personal support. They have been there for us during difficult times and provided valuable advice and guidance. Their support during COVID has been invaluable. We are incredibly grateful for their ongoing support and partnership.”
Evie acknowledges the ability to adapt and evolve, both as an individual and as an organisation, is crucial to success. Since winning Let Teachers SHINE funding, Evie has recognised the value of diversity and inclusivity in advancing Boromi. She said, “We believe in the power of constant improvement and adaptation, and we are always open to feedback from our schools, partners and stakeholders as we continue to learn and evolve.”
Reflecting on the evaluation aspect of her project, Evie acknowledged that the process can be daunting. However, she said, “I have come to realise that you do not need to have all the answers or be an expert in evaluation. Collaborating with others has made the process feel less intimidating through working together, the evaluation process has been made more manageable.”
One of the biggest challenges that Evie and her team faced with Boromi was the disruption caused by the pandemic. They had to be flexible and adapt their programme to the changing circumstances. Instead of trying to force the project to continue in its original form, they quickly accepted that it had to be put on hold for a while and instead chose to focus their energy on finding new ways to support families.
When asked about a standout moment from the project, Evie said, “The satisfaction of receiving feedback from parents and schools and observing the impact of Boromi on the ground is a real highlight for me. Being able to measure the effectiveness in a robust and rigorous manner means that I know that the project is making a difference.”
When considering the future, Evie’s big ambition is to establish a nationwide network of Play Libraries, freely accessible to any family with children aged 0 to 5 in need of support. “Through our evaluation work over the past year, we’ve come to the realisation that, in order to reach this ambition, working with schools alone won’t be enough. To truly build an infrastructure able to reach these families, we need to think about a whole community approach and as a result, we’re now taking our first steps into developing a sister model to work in partnership with community settings.”
To achieve this, Evie recognises the importance of leveraging pre-existing relationships and building upon the great work already being done by the 65 Boromi schools across the UK.
We know that Boromi is making a difference. Our challenge now is how we sustainably scale-up the reach and impact of our programme. Our aim is to be able to reach 200 schools over the next couple of years, alongside developing a complementary model that will enable us to work in partnership with community settings, allowing us to achieve even greater impact upon families.