Prisoners champion Reading Ahead

More than 9000 prisoners from 90 prisons across the UK took part in our Reading Ahead programme during the last year. Reading Ahead is designed to help people improve their skills at the same time as developing an enjoyment of reading. Of these, nearly 5000 recorded six reads in their reading diary in order to get a certificate and a pocket dictionary or spelling or writing guide thanks to our partners Give a Book. Thirty-three prisons supported 50 or more prisoners to complete Reading Ahead. Five of these achieved 150 or more with top performer HMP Wandsworth recording 284 completers.

Author LJ Flanders launches Reading Ahead Champions pilot

To fulfil our aim of extending the reach and impact of Reading Ahead in prisons, we’re now piloting a new approach under the name Reading Ahead Champions. This was launched on Monday 25 November at an event at HMP Featherstone, one of six prisons in Staffordshire taking part in the six-month pilot. LJ Flanders (pictured above with prison library staff), author of Cell Work-Out and a former prisoner himself, talked to a large audience about the ups and downs of his life in prison and his life since his release in 2012 before running work-out sessions for staff and prisoners. His book, which details in words and pictures the exercises he used to get fit in his prison cell, now forms the basis of workshops that he runs in prisons across the country.

Library supervisor Adeline Fergus said: “The feedback has been phenomenal. The men were engrossed from the first moment he started talking.”

Having taken part in Reading Ahead (then called Six Book Challenge) while in HMP Pentonville, LJ, who is dyslexic, encouraged his audience to make good use of their time. “You have to accept that you are behind bars but take every opportunity they give you.”

Library staff in the six Staffordshire prisons have identified prisoners to take on the role of a Reading Ahead Champion. This will involve recruiting and supporting their peers to complete the challenge, helping them to use the library, choose reading materials and get started on their reading journey. The pilot is being evaluated so that lessons learnt can be built into further roll-out in 2020.

Progression routes for prisoners

The pilot was discussed at a national event for prison library and education staff held at Free Word on 8 November. Sixty delegates gathered to hear policy lead Ian Bickers, Quick Reads author Clare Mackintosh and library staff sharing good practice for running Reading Ahead. A panel session explored the potential for improving progression routes for people taking part in reading initiatives in prison such as the Shannon Trust Reading Plan, Reading Ahead and Prison Reading Groups.

Focus on ESOL

A morning session focused on a priority audience for Reading Ahead – prisoners with ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). Funded by The Bell Foundation, a three-year project has looked at the benefits of reading for pleasure for people learning English. Evidence gathered by Cloud Chamber Evaluation Services shows that Reading Ahead can be adapted to be an effective reading intervention for ESOL learners.

“The participant survey has consistently demonstrated how participants feel they have benefited, from improving their reading wider language confidence to enhancing their ability to access prison services, gain skills, and make them feel more prepared for life after prison.”

The full report and a range of creative tools and booklists to support ESOL learners taking part in Reading Ahead can be downloaded here.


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Give a Book

The Reading Agency wishes to express its enormous thanks to Give a Book for the charity’s impact on Reading Ahead since 2013. Up to July 2019, nearly 50,000 dictionaries and spelling/writing guides had been provided as a reward for prisoners who complete Reading Ahead by the charity Give a Book. In 2018-19, 90% of prison staff who participated in our annual online survey said the free dictionaries had been ‘very useful’ in encouraging people to complete Reading Ahead.

“Dictionaries are as popular as fiction here. They are definitely an incentive for the men to do the challenge.” (HMP Nottingham, 2018-19)

“It encourages reading and the incentive of receiving a dictionary makes it worthwhile, and a fitting reward for completing the challenge. Great idea and very necessary.” (HMP Chelmsford, 2017-18)

Our work in prisons is also funded by Bromley Trust, Balcombe Trust, Batchworth Trust, Beatrice Laing Trust, Peter Storrs Trust, Drapers’ Charitable Fund, The Hobson Charity and Gisela Graham Foundation.

World Book Night goes digital for 2020

10 December 2019: The Reading Agency today announces the titles that will feature on the World Book Night 2020 booklist.

World Book Night is the annual celebration of reading on 23 April aiming to inspire everyone to share books and reading, whether they are less confident or passionate readers. It is a key part of The Reading Agency’s mission to support everyone in reading their way to a better life, using the proven power of reading to promote skills and learning, health and wellbeing and build social connections. This year will see an expansion of World Book Night’s digital offer as The Reading Agency seeks to make reading available to the widest possible audience.

This year’s titles, from publishers including Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster and Andersen Press, include a diverse selection of books for adults and young people. This year’s list features both paperbacks and audiobooks, with North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, Double Crossed by Brian Wood and Bedtime Stories for Stressed Out Adults edited by Lucy Mangan available for individuals to receive via an exclusive download code. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (which is celebrating a significant 42nd birthday in 2020) will be donated as both a paperback to organisations and an audiobook to individuals.

Other titles on the list include Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s first novel), How to Be a Footballer by Peter Crouch, and Diversify by June Sarpong, as well as two Quick Reads that will be published in February 2020. You can view the full list below and on the World Book Night website. Copies of the books will be donated by publishers to organisations across the UK. Applications for the giveaway are now open at

Celebratory events will be happening across the country in April 2020. The Reading Agency will be working with public libraries, prisons, colleges, care homes, youth centres, mental health groups, charities and other organisations to spread the joy of reading. Partners including Libraries Connected, the Booksellers Association and library suppliers will ensure as wide an impact as possible across the UK. Ideas on how you can celebrate World Book Night yourself can be found at where free resources can be downloaded.

World Book Night 2020 titles

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Pan Macmillan)
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (Andersen Press)
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (HarperCollins)
The Dead Ex by Jane Corry (Penguin General)
How to Be a Footballer by Peter Crouch (Ebury)
Practical Zen: Meditation and Beyond by Julian Daizan Skinner (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)
The Truth About Lies by Tracy Darnton (Little Tiger)
Darkness Rising (Quick Reads) by A.A. Dhand (Transworld)
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Penguin Press)
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (Penguin Random House Audio)
The Man I Think I Know by Mike Gayle (Hachette)
Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan (John Murray Press)
The Little Dreams of Lara Cliffe (Quick Reads) by Milly Johnson (Simon & Schuster)
Bedtime Stories for Stressed Out Adults by Various, ed. by Lucy Mangan (Hachette Audio)
One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus (Penguin Random House Children’s)
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee (Vintage)
Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls (Andersen Press)
East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman (HarperCollins)
Diversify by June Sarpong (HarperCollins)
The Spanish Promise by Karen Swan (Pan Macmillan)
Somebody Give This Heart a Pen by Sophia Thakur (Walker Books)
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (Walker Books)
Death in the Dordogne by Martin Walker (Hachette)
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (Michael Joseph)
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (Cornerstone)
Double Crossed by Brian Wood (Penguin Random House Audio)

Karen Napier, Chief Executive, The Reading Agency says: “World Book Night is a fantastic way to encourage emerging and reluctant readers to engage with books for the first time. Every year, with the support of our publisher partners, our book giveaway ensures that people across the UK are able to start on their journey to reading their way to a better life.”

Mike Gayle, whose book has been donated by publisher Hodder & Stoughton, says: “I’m thrilled to be part of World Book Night. As a child books were my world and rarely a week went by without a visit to my local library. Books fired up my imagination allowing me to experience worlds, times and places that would have remained unknown to me otherwise. It’s a privilege to be part of this project and help spread the news about the awesome power of the written word. Happy reading!”

After World Book Night 2019, results from a follow-up survey showed that 99% of respondent organisational givers rated their experience of being a giver as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’, and 97% of respondent recipients were pleased to receive their book.

Following World Book Night 2019, one of the participating organisations said: “We gave our all the books to our young people and to some of them it was like we had given them gold, they couldn’t believe that they had been given a book and many told us this was the first book they have ever owned which had some of us welling up.”

Get involved

Use the World Book Night website for free resources and inspiration on setting up your own event

The Reading Agency and Royal Holloway to offer funded PhD studentship on motivations for reading

The Reading Agency is a UK-wide charity tackling life’s big challenges of social mobility, loneliness, mental health and wellbeing, through the proven power of reading. Every year the organisation reaches 1.4 million people across the UK with the support of 13,817 partner organisations, ensuring that everyone is reading their way to a better life.

We’re delighted to announce that we and Royal Holloway, University of London, have been awarded funding from the South East Network for Social Sciences (SeNSS) and Economic & Social Research Council for a collaborative PhD studentship. The studentship is aimed at investigating and enhancing motivations for reading.

Reading ability influences academic achievement, career prospects and personal wellbeing. But why are some people more motivated to read? This project takes a new perspective on reading acquisition, drawing on complementary strengths of the academic supervisors, Dr. Krishnan (brain and language), Dr. Ricketts (reading and vocabulary), and Dr. Balsters (social decision making).

The student will use models from decision making to capture how much time, effort, and money people are willing to expend on reading and explore the brain basis of motivation using neuroimaging tools (fMRI). This collaboration will also allow us to address whether motivation for reading differs in those with low literacy and explore how environments can be altered to boost motivation.

The successful candidate will be hosted at the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway and will have access to space, supervision, and project-related resources at The Reading Agency (based in central London).

Find out more

For more details and to express your interest in applying for the project, visit this link 

The Reading Agency

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