Government announces £7.5 million funding to tackle loneliness during winter

  • Funding will help provide immediate and targeted relief to those most at risk of loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic
  • Support will target sectors that bring people and communities together including the arts, libraries, charities and radio
  • Grants will be administered via Arts Council England, the Government’s Loneliness Fund and two radio funds
  • Move follows £4 million Local Connections Fund that will deliver over a thousand small grants to local community projects across the country

The Government has announced a £7.5 million funding package to help tackle loneliness over the winter period. Following the recent news about the Tier 4 measures and with more people finding themselves alone this Christmas, this funding package will help provide immediate and targeted relief to those most at risk.

The funding will be targeted at sectors that are well-known for having the power to bring people and communities together such as the arts, libraries, charities and radio. It will be a lifeline to cultural organisations, charities and local community groups who are delivering much-needed work to ensure no one feels isolated in their local community.

The funding will be distributed via three existing schemes:

  • £5 million to Arts Council England for arts and library services, of which £3.5 million has been awarded by DCMS to national charity The Reading Agency, for their Reading Well and Reading Friends programmes
  • £2 million to extend the Government’s Loneliness Fund launched in May this year
  • £500,000 to be distributed amongst the Audio Content Fund and the Community Radio Fund

The package builds upon the £4 million Local Connections Fund announced earlier this month, which will provide hundreds of small grants to charities and small grassroots organisations – such as book clubs, walking groups and other local projects – that are bringing communities together and reducing social isolation. Applications for the Local Connections Fund will open in early January.

Baroness Barran, Minister for Civil Society, said:

“We are coming to the end of one of the toughest years we have ever had to face and I know that the next few months will be a worry for many people who have felt particularly isolated or lonely during the pandemic.
“We still have some difficult times to overcome and it is important that we continue to provide support to those most at risk of isolation and loneliness over the next few months.
“There is already such important work being done in the arts, library and radio sectors to help bring people together and tackle loneliness. I am thrilled that the £7.5 million funding package will have an immediate impact on those who need it most.”

Some of the grants awarded by Arts Council England will be distributed via two existing programmes: Creative People & Places and Celebrating Age, which create opportunities for social connections through arts and cultural spaces in the community.

Creative People and Places has achieved over 5 million engagements to date in England. The Celebrating Age programme supports older people to engage with arts and culture as well as encouraging cultural spaces and organisations to be open, positive and welcoming places for older people. It has so far reached over 26,000 people.

The remainder of the Arts Council funding will be awarded to enhance and expand two successful programmes delivered by The Reading Agency: Reading Well Books on Prescription and Reading Friends. Funds will be used to provide the Reading Well mental health book collections for children, young people and adults to all public libraries in England, as well as significantly expand the delivery of Reading Friends through libraries – a shared reading model which uses reading to bring people together and tackle loneliness. An evaluation of Reading Friends found that 83% of participants and 95% of volunteers felt connected to other people after taking part.

Caroline Dinenage, Libraries Minister, said:

“From hosting virtual versions of groups like Rhyme Time to making more of the most popular titles available for loan as ebooks, libraries across the country have adapted quickly to the pandemic so they can continue to act as a crucial community resource to people of all ages, and protect them from the risk of isolation.
“This funding will enable The Reading Agency to deepen and widen the impact of their partnerships with libraries. It will also allow libraries’ invaluable work to continue, with a particular focus on providing reading materials and support on how we can look after our mental health during this challenging winter period.”

DCMS will also be extending the existing Loneliness Grant Fund, to ensure that some of the organisations selected earlier this year can expand their current programmes or reach into new areas. This will help to ensure that these national organisations providing vital support for a wide range of vulnerable people at risk of loneliness, including the elderly, veterans, and people with disabilities, can support even more people.

In May nine organisations, including the EFL, RNIB, Alzheimer’s Society and MIND were awarded a share of £5 million to reduce loneliness.

The remaining £500,000 will be distributed via two existing radio funds: the Community Radio Fund (CRF) and the Audio Content Fund (ACF).

Around 300 not-for-profit stations, staffed largely by volunteers, broadcast to around a million listeners per week, providing a lifeline to local communities who rely on these stations for up-to-date news and entertainment. These stations have been hit hard by the pandemic, with advertising revenues having dropped significantly. The CRF will provide £200,000 emergency funding to help stations meet the core costs of continuing to provide their vital services.

The Audio Content Fund exists to finance high-quality, public service radio programming for broadcast on UK commercial and community radio. The ACF will receive £300,000 to support the creation of content which will make listeners feel less lonely and connect the vulnerable with their communities this winter.

In addition, £600,000 will support small commercial radio stations with their transmission costs, and help secure their futures into the new year.

Today’s announcement builds on previous work by the Government to reduce loneliness during the pandemic. Over £24 million of the £750 million charity funding package has gone directly towards reducing loneliness, and a further £45 million to organisations supporting people with their mental health.

And in June DCMS relaunched its long-running campaign, Let’s Talk Loneliness, to remind people that there is no shame in asking for help. The website has lots of useful advice on how to help yourself and others safely.

Throughout December, DMCS are delivering a Let’s Talk Loneliness advent calendar that shares practical advice, inspiring stories, and support routes to encourage people to take the first steps to alleviate loneliness in themselves and others.

Scientists divulge superhero secrets with children’s wards and libraries this Christmas

A team of super scientists are divulging their super-power secrets with children across the country this Christmas.

The seven academics from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) have partnered with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and The Reading Agency to share their secret- spilling book, ‘Unmasked: The Science of Superheroes’, with libraries across the UK and children who are spending the festive season in hospital.

Co-author Robert Walsh, Professor of Solar Physics at UCLan, said: “Through Unmasked: The Science of Superheroes, we wanted to show how the science of the world we all inhabit can be just as wondrous, exciting and jaw-droppingly brilliant as the explosive exploits we relish seeing on our cinema screens and reading about in our comic books.”

Fellow co-writer Dr Nicky Danino, Principal Lecturer in Computer Science, commented: “It’s an amazing feeling to know this book could inspire thousands more youngsters to engage with science in a novel way thanks to thousands of copies being placed in UK libraries and in a large number of children’s hospital wards.

“The public’s reaction to the book, when we launched it back in March, was so positive. To receive such significant support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Reading Agency for this work at UCLan is phenomenal.”

The fascinating popular science book uses computing, engineering, maths, physics, biology and psychology to explore the world of superheroes like never before. Could you really be as strong as Captain America or fly at light speed like Captain Marvel? Can we build super suits of armour like Ironman or find Guardians of the Galaxy style alien life on distant planets?

The UCLan scientists have even been turned into superheroes themselves across the pages of the book, with each character reflecting different types of superpowers based on their scientific backgrounds.

The project has been financially supported by the STFC’s Public Engagement programme.

Dr Jenni Chambers, Interim Head of Public Engagement and Skills for STFC, said: “STFC is delighted to have been able to help bring this fantastic, entertaining and educational book ‘Unmasked: The Science of Superheroes’ to public libraries though supporting partnerships with The Reading Agency and UCLan. Public libraries are an amazing resource, the book is amazing and STFC know this will help it get into the hands of more readers, inspiring them about the wonder of science.”

Public libraries throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive 7,000 free copies of the book. The Reading Agency has coordinated the book gifting as part of their mission to get the nation reading.

Debbie Hicks, Creative Director at The Reading Agency, commented: “We are thrilled to be teaming up with UCLan and STFC to enable the nation’s children to access this fantastic STEM book which has been gifted to public libraries. Research and experience show that children learn by incorporating reading into play. Developing science knowledge through superheroes is a brilliant way to get children interested and engaged in STEM subjects. We know children and families will love unmasking the astounding world of science and superheroes by borrowing the book from their local library.”

Carol Stump, Chief Librarian at Kirklees Council and President of Libraries Connected, said: “On behalf of libraries across the country, thank you UCLan, STFC and The Reading Agency for the free copy of the fantastic new book ‘Unmasked: The Science of Superheroes’. Thousands of books have already gone out to libraries across the country which we are thrilled about! The book will definitely engage children with STEM, using superheroes and the comic book legends to explore and understand science. A brilliant concept and way of getting children interested in STEM subjects through reading!”

Many children’s wards, including those at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, have already received their copies. Hayley Thomas, Head of Corporate Fundraising at Alder Hey Children’s Charity, added: “Thank you for generously donating the Unmasked: The Science of Superheroes books for our patients. Our Play Team was delighted to receive them. New books are a great way to entertain patients during their hospital stay so your donation is really appreciated.”

Visit for more information about the project and how to purchase a copy of the book itself.

The Reading Agency partners with Costa Coffee for Gift-A-Book Christmas Campaign

Costa Coffee, the Nation’s Favourite Coffee shop*, is partnering with leading charity The Reading Agency to share the joy of reading this Christmas, by gifting 100,000 books to some of the families and communities hit hardest by the pandemic this year.

50,000 book-and-coffee care packages – containing one adult book, one children’s book, and a range of festive Costa Coffee treats – will be distributed to food banks, community hubs, hospitals and care homes across the UK, in time for Christmas Eve. The books in each care package have been selected from the works of six bestselling authors connected to the Costa Book Awards, including Malorie Blackman, Candice Carty-Williams and Michael Morpurgo.

The Costa Coffee Gift-A-Book campaign is inspired by Jolabokaflod, the Icelandic tradition of exchanging books with loved ones on Christmas Eve. Loosely translated, Jolabokaflod means ‘Christmas Book Flood’: it is a Christmas Eve tradition dating back to World War Two, where Icelanders give and receive books and read them through the night with chocolate and a hot drink.

Other high-profile names – including author and actor, Simon Callow; author and TV presenter, Konnie Huq; author and former SAS soldier, Andy McNab; writer and mathematician, Bobby Seagull, and former Children’s Laureate, Jacqueline Wilson – will also lend their support to the campaign by sharing their own favourite book to gift ahead of Christmas Eve, encouraging members of the public to embrace their own Jolabokaflod tradition at home this year and share their top reading choices using #CostaGiftABook.

Michael Morpurgo, author of family favourites War Horse and Kaspar: Prince of Cats, one of the books included in the care packages, said: “Reading is a journey of discovery which set me on the path to writing. Without it, I don’t know where I would be, so I believe it is absolutely vital that every person, whatever age and wherever they live, should have access to books and the doors they allow us to step through. That’s why I’m thrilled with Costa Coffee’s generous book donation and passionate about supporting the work of The Reading Agency.”

Neil Lake, MD, Costa Coffee UK & Ireland, said: “Tradition is a big part of Christmas and, although this year will feel different for many people, we wanted to help some of those hardest-hit to create a new tradition inspired by this heart-warming custom of gifting books on Christmas Eve. As the proud sponsor of the Costa Book Awards, which is almost in its 50th year, we know the power of a great read and a perfect cup of coffee. Our teams are passionate about supporting the local communities they serve and, by gifting these care packages in partnership with The Reading Agency, we hope to give back to those communities with a comforting and joyful experience at the end of a turbulent year.”

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency, added: “We are delighted to be announcing this partnership with Costa Coffee. Books connect and transport us to other worlds, but not everyone can access them: this has been especially true in 2020, which has been so challenging for so many. We have had an extraordinary response to the campaign, and we hope that it will bring some much-needed festive cheer to families and communities from Liverpool to Folkestone, from the Isle of Man to the Isle of Mull. We are working towards a world where everyone is reading their way to a better life, and initiatives like this help our work towards giving every child and adult equal access to the joy of reading.”

In February 2020, Costa Coffee was voted The Nation’s Favourite Coffee Shop for the 10th consecutive year by Allegra Strategies. The Costa Book Awards, one of the UK’s most prestigious and popular book prizes, has been running since 1971 and will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.

*Allegra Strategies, 2019

Get Involved


To find out more about the Costa Coffee Gift-A-Book campaign or to donate to The Reading Agency, please visit:

For more information, please contact: [email protected] / 07828 760 451

gal-dem, Stephen King, Jack Monroe and Pam Ayres to Feature on World Book Night 2021 Booklist

9 December 2020. The Reading Agency, in partnership with Specsavers, has today announced the titles that will feature on the booklist for World Book Night 2021. The list is themed “Books To Make You Smile” in response to the impact of Covid-19 on mental health and wellbeing.

World Book Night, the annual celebration of reading taking place on 23 April, celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2021 by giving away 90,000 books in various formats – almost twice as many as last year. The Reading Agency’s mission is to spread the joy of reading to those who don’t regularly read for pleasure or have access to books, by distributing books to organisations such as prisons, hospitals, youth centres, care homes and mental health groups. Applications are open until January 29th for organisations to receive books to be given away on World Book Night. Last year books went to York City Football Club, The Disability Foundation, Rethink Mental Illness, and Crisis, among others.

This year’s titles, from publishers including Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Pan Macmillan and Head of Zeus, include a diverse selection of books for adults and young people. From Elevation by master storyteller Stephen King to Pam Ayres’ poetry collection Up in the Attic, and from Liverpool legend James Milner’s Ask a Footballer to Good Food for Bad Days by prominent food writer and campaigner Jack Monroe – the WBN 2021 booklist promises to have something to make everyone smile. Good-humoured anthologies “I Will Not Be Erased”: Our stories about growing up as people of colour by gal-dem, the award-winning magazine created by women and non-binary people of colour, and Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers edited by Kit de Waal are included. Non-fiction titles with a mental wellbeing focus are The Kindness Method by Shahroo Izadi; The Anxiety Survival Guide by Bridie Gallagher, Sue Knowles and Phoebe McEwan and the book of inspirational quotes published by Welbeck Balance, Pocket Book of Happiness.

Following the success of last year’s digital offer, the World Book Night 2021 booklist will continue to feature audiobooks, as The Reading Agency seeks to make reading available to the widest possible audience. This year’s audiobooks include Emma by Jane Austen, narrated by Tanya Reynolds and BBC Audio’s Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, narrated by David Tennant and Samantha Spiro.

An exclusive addition to the 2021 booklist to mark the 10th anniversary is the specially commissioned book, Stories to Make You Smile, published by Simon & Schuster and in partnership with Specsavers. The collection will be edited by writer, former Costa Book Award judge and Quick Reads editor Fanny Blake, and features authors Richard Madeley, Jenny Éclair, Helen Lederer, Mark Watson, Dorothy Koomson, Eva Verde, Vaseem Khan, Veronica Henry and Rachel Hore among others.

World Book Night 2021 Titles

  • A Dutiful Boy by Mohsin Zaidi (Vintage)
  • Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers by various authors, ed. by Kit de Waal (Unbound)
  • Ask a Footballer by James Milner (Quercus)
  • Elevation by Stephen King (Hodder)
  • Emma by Jane Austen, narrated by Tanya Reynolds (Penguin Random House Audio)
  • Faking Friends by Jane Fallon (Michael Joseph)
  • Good Food for Bad Days by Jack Monroe (Pan Macmillan)
  • “I Will Not Be Erased”: Our Stories About Growing Up as People of Colour by gal-dem (Walker Books)
  • Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, narrated by David Tennant and Samantha Spiro (BBC Audio)
  • Pocket Book of Happiness (Welbeck Balance)
  • Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe (Penguin General)
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Penguin Random House Children’s)
  • Sunshine and Sweet Peas in Nightingale Square by Heidi Swain (Simon & Schuster)
  • Stories to Make You Smile by various authors, ed. by Fanny Blake (Simon & Schuster)
  • Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change by Chelsea Kwakye and Ọrẹ Ogunbiyi (Cornerstone)
  • The Anxiety Survival Guide by Bridie Gallagher, Sue Knowles and Phoebe McEwen (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)
  • The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary (Quercus)
  • The Kindness Method written and narrated by Shahroo Izadi (Pan Macmillan)
  • To Sir With Love by E.R. Braithwaite (Vintage)
  • Up in the Attic by Pam Ayres (Ebury)
  • We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen (Andersen Press)
  • Where Are We Now? By Glenn Patterson (Head of Zeus)

Debbie Hicks, Creative Director of the Reading Agency, said: “We’re thrilled to be announcing our World Book Night 2021 booklist, and hugely grateful to all the wonderful publishers and authors contributing. This year, we saw first-hand how World Book Night and the #ReadingHour brought people together during a very challenging time – so it makes perfect sense for us to continue to build on this with our 2021 theme, alongside our brilliant partner Specsavers, sharing books to make the nation smile.”

Dame Mary Perkins, co-founder of Specsavers, said: ”The Reading Agency always does a wonderful job of bringing people together through the love of reading, which continues to be one of our most popular past-times, increasingly so since we have had to spend more time at home. We are delighted to be working with them to support and encourage literacy and good vision so that people can continue to enjoy reading, and hope that this exciting new collection of stories will bring smiles to the faces of people across the UK.

Author Stephen King, said: “I’m very pleased that Elevation has been chosen for World Book Night. It’s one of my favorites, probably because it suggests that good people can still bridge the divide between differing points of view and find a path to acceptance.”

Becky Albertalli, author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda said: “I’ve long admired from afar the fantastic work that World Book Night does each to year to encourage reading for pleasure and how it brings together people from all backgrounds by celebrating books that cater for anyone and everyone. Simon and his story, unsurprisingly, remains incredibly close to my heart and therefore I’m delighted to see him continue to be introduced and embraced by readers as part of such an important initiative.”

Follow the latest developments on social media:

@WorldBookNight / @ReadingAgency / @Specsavers

#WorldBookNight / #ReadingHour / #BooksToMakeYouSmile

For all media enquiries, please contact:

Anna Zanetti: [email protected]

Georgina Moore: [email protected]

World Book Night 2021 celebrates 10th Anniversary with Specsavers partnership and commissioned book

Save the date: Friday 23rd April 2021

3 December 2020: The Reading Agency has today announced that “Books To Make You Smile” will be the theme of World Book Night 2021 (23 April), to mark the tenth year of the annual campaign celebrating the shared pleasure of reading.

Building on the success of World Book Night 2020, which brought millions of people together for the #ReadingHour during the first national lockdown, next year’s theme is a response to the pandemic’s significant impact on the nation’s mental health.

To mark its tenth anniversary, World Book Night will produce a specially commissioned book, Stories to Make You Smile, published by Simon & Schuster. The collection will be edited by writer, former Costa Book Award judge and Quick Reads editor Fanny Blake. Confirmed authors include:

  • Jenny Éclair – comedian, novelist, actress and Loose Women panellist, and author of bestselling book Older and Wider – A Survivor’s Guide to the Menopause.
  • Richard Madeley – television royalty, writer and co-host of the UK’s biggest book club, The Richard and Judy Book Club.
  • Helen Lederer – comedian, writer and actress, famous for her role as Catriona in Absolutely Fabulous.
  • Mark Watson – award-winning Edinburgh Fringe comedian, radio presenter and author of seven novels.
  • Dorothy Koomson – best-selling author of The Ice Cream Girls and The Brighton Mermaid, described as “Britain’s biggest selling Black author of adult fiction” (The Independent).
  • Vaseem Khan – best-selling author of Indian-set crime series Baby Ganesh Agency and the Malabar House novels, whose books have been optioned for film by Cinestaan.
  • Rachel Hore – Sunday Times Top Ten best-selling author of eleven novels, including The Dream House, The Glasspainter’s Daughter and A Beautiful Spy.
  • Veronica Henry – Journalist and bestselling author of romance novels, including A Night on the Orient Express and A Wedding at the Beach Hut.

The book commission is made possible by a brand-new partnership with Specsavers which has teamed up with The Reading Agency to produce the free book to help bring smiles to people’s faces. It also coincides with Specsavers new multichannel campaign, Something to Smile About, to celebrate the positivity and joy that a simple smile can bring when times are difficult. The book will be available as part of the national World Book Night giveaway and for Specsavers customers, with details to be announced in 2021.

World Book Night 2021 will also once again team up with publishers to give away over 50,000 books in various formats, with the World Book Night booklist to be announced later in December. The giveaway will see books and audiobooks donated to organisations including prisons, hospitals, youth centres, care homes and mental health groups, to spread the joy of reading to those who don’t regularly read for pleasure or have access to books.

Research shows a sharp increase in the proportion of adults experiencing poor mental health during the pandemic, increasing by 80% among 18-29-year-olds and 68% among those aged 65-79 (Resolution Foundation); half of adults (49%) said their wellbeing has been affected by the coronavirus outbreak (ONS); and twice as many adults in Britain reported symptoms of depression during the pandemic compared with the same time last year (ONS). The research highlights that the most affected groups are people from BAME backgrounds, women, younger adults, key workers, people living in overcrowded houses, people with lower incomes and prisoners (COVID-19 Social Study).

The Reading Agency’s World Book Night 2021 campaign aims to support everyone in finding more time to read and feel connected to a reading community. Reading is proven to improve mental health, self-esteem, empathy, concentration and more, with research showing adults who read for 30 minutes a week are 20% more likely to report greater life satisfaction (source: The Reading Agency).

Jenny Éclair, author of Older and Wider – A Survivor’s Guide to the Menopause, said: “I am thrilled to be one of the 10 authors contributing to the first ever World Book Night book, as part of the national 10th anniversary celebrations! An anthology of stories to make you smile is just what the nation needs after an extremely tough 2020. I look forward to working with The Reading Agency and their 2021 partners, to lift the nations spirits and put a smile on all of our faces!”

Karen Napier, Chief Executive of the Reading Agency, said: “We’re really delighted to be partnering with Specsavers for the 2021 World Book Night. This year has been really challenging for everyone, and during lockdown in April, we saw first-hand how World Book Night and the #ReadingHour brought people together and spread the joy of reading across the nation. We can’t wait to celebrate the 10th Anniversary in April 2021, share the wonderful stories from our specially commissioned book, and help get the nation smiling!”

Dame Mary Perkins, co-founder of Specsavers, said: ”The Reading Agency always does a wonderful job of bringing people together through the love of reading, which continues to be one of our most popular past-times, increasingly so since we have had to spend more time at home. We are delighted to be working with them to support and encourage literacy and good vision so that people can continue to enjoy reading, and hope that this exciting new collection of stories will bring smiles to the faces of people across the UK.

Paul O’Grady, Summer Reading Challenge 2020 ambassador said: “World Book Night is a wonderful celebration of books and reading, and it is great to see The Reading Agency carrying on the great work from their silly summer for children with another uplifting theme – Books That Make You Smile – this time for adults. We all need a good laugh right now and The Reading Agency and their partner, Specsavers, are set to ensure our moods are boosted this Spring!”

Follow the latest devolopments on social media:

@WorldBookNight / @ReadingAgency / @Specsavers
#WorldBookNight / #ReadingHour / #BooksToMakeYouSmile

For all media enquiries, please contact:
Anna Zanetti: [email protected]
Georgina Moore: [email protected]

The Reading Agency

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