How green is your reading group?

COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference is taking place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November. It’s got us thinking about the things we can do, big and small, at home, work and school, to help the planet. But what about in your reading group? We’ve collated a few ideas to help you run your reading group with the planet in mind.

Share this list with your members at your next meet-up and see what you’d like to try out…

  • Teach your children. Saving the planet is for the next generation, so it’s really important that children also understand climate change. They can discover Exact Editions’ Children’s Book Showcase using our scavenger hunt.
  • Borrow your books. Many library services offer sets of books for reading groups to borrow. Ask your local library if they have a list of reading groups sets, or how else they can support your group. You can also borrow e-books and audiobooks from the library using their digital lending service. Don’t have your book in stock? Ask the librarian if they can get it in for you!
  • Buy second-hand. If you prefer to own your books, check out a local charity shop or second-hand bookshop to see if they have the book you’re after. There are also websites such as Bookswap or World of Books where you can swap or buy second-hand books. You can also share copies between your group members instead of everyone having their own copy.
  • Meet with less mileage. Try car sharing, taking public transport, walking or cycling to your reading group. Alternatively, try running some of your meetings on Zoom to save on petrol and reduce your carbon emissions.
  • Make a pledge to the planet. Make a monthly green promise as a group. Try taking part in Meat Free Mondays, swap your disposable coffee cups for keep cups or buy your groceries locally. Keep 10 minutes at the end of your meeting to discuss your progress and keep each other on track!
  • Snack sustainably. Ditch the supermarket biscuits and take it in turns to make your own food and refreshments for the group!

Share your own ideas with us, take photos and tag us at @readingagency!

StoryTrails: an immersive storytelling experience set to visit 15 libraries across the country

The Reading Agency is pleased to announce it is working with StoryFutures and 5 other STEM organisations including the BFI and Nexus Studios to create StoryTrails, a unique immersive storytelling experience where untold stories from the past are brought to life through the magic of the 3D internet using augmented and virtual reality. The project is one of 10 commissions taking place as part of Unboxed, a UK-wide celebration of creativity taking place in 2022.

The project is led by Creative Producer David Olusoga and working with 15 libraries across the UK and Northern Ireland will reach members of the local communities gathering forgotten and unheard stories from local people and culminating in an immersive tour of each town as audiences explore these stories through virtual and augmented reality (AR) and a series of installations in the summer of 2022.

StoryTrails will be in the library spaces from early 2022, engaging the local communities in story workshops and then will return to each place in the summer offering two-day residencies in each location which will be free for the public to attend. Starting in July 2022, the tour will visit Omagh, Dundee, Dumfries, Blackpool, Bradford, Sheffield, Lincoln, Wolverhampton, Swansea, Newport, Bristol, Swindon and Slough, before ending the London Boroughs of Lambeth and Lewisham in September.

The project will support The Reading Agency’s ongoing mission to tackle life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading. By working in partnership with libraries across the UK and Northern Ireland, StoryTrails aims to get the UK engaged in the first immersive storytelling project of this kind! The project aims to support libraries through Covid recovery by increasing library visitor numbers, introducing new audiences into the library space, and celebrating their position within communities as centres of innovation and storytelling. The project will be recruiting the next generation of creative UK-based talent to help tell the stories of local communities. They will work closely with local people in each place to gather unknown, surprising and intriguing stories. Fifty creatives will be trained to use state-of-the-art immersive technologies to showcase and produce these stories in new and surprising ways. Led by StoryFutures Academy, the StoryTrails collective want to ensure that the UK’s creative industries are not only the best trained in the use of emerging and immersive technologies but that the future workforce properly represents the diversity of the UK. This project will aim to recruit those traditionally under-represented across the UK’s creative industries.

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency said:

‘We are so pleased to announce this project which, using new technologies, will spotlight the inspiring work of libraries as centres of innovation and their role in supporting the building of a diverse creative workforce in the UK. Working in partnership with the StoryFutures and the other fantastic STEM organisations, we hope that StoryTrails will provide both regular users and new visitors with an opportunity to engage with their libraries as crucial hubs for sharing stories and then hearing them back in new and exciting ways.’

Councillor Alison Teal, Cabinet Member for Sustainable Communities, Wellbeing and Parks and Leisure said:

“Sheffield Libraries and Archives have been telling stories, collecting histories and creating opportunities for community collaboration and personal development for over 150 years. Being part of this national festival that shares our aims is an opportunity to explore how we might interpret our collections through community collaboration and new technology. It will be positive, exciting and innovative for our city and we’re really looking forward to it.”

Professor David Olusoga, Executive Producer for StoryTrails, said:

“I am thrilled to be working with StoryFutures to help bring about change in the diversity of our creative industries. By enabling 50 diverse creative voices to create compelling stories that combine past, present and future through the magic of immersive technologies, we’ll be mapping a new path for creativity in this country. StoryTrails will set the public’s imagination alight with experiences that use the poetry of history to inspire a new vision of our future.”

Sue Williamson, Director, Libraries, Arts Council England said:

“We are thrilled that The Reading Agency is helping to put immersive technologies into libraries next year. Library users, visitors and passers-by will be able to use state-of-the-art equipment to explore unheard community stories in innovative ways.”

Visit story-trails.com for more information.

Information on recruitment of 50 diverse creatives – Apply – StoryTrails

StoryFutures unveils StoryTrails – a unique immersive storytelling experience for UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK

The Reading Agency is one of 6 partners working on StoryTrails, an immersive storytelling experience taking place in libraries across the UK in 2022.

StoryFutures Academy is today unveiling StoryTrails, a unique immersive storytelling experience where untold stories from the past are brought to life through the magic of the 3D internet using augmented and virtual reality to reanimate public spaces in towns and cities across the UK. Audiences will time-travel via the wonder of new technologies to experience untold local histories where they happened. StoryFutures Academy is run by Royal Holloway, University of London and the National Film and Television School (NFTS).

StoryTrails is one of 10 projects commissioned for UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, a ground-breaking UK-wide celebration of creativity in 2022 that will bring people together and reach millions through free, large-scale immersive installations and globally accessible digital experiences in the UK’s most ambitious showcase of creative collaboration.

The StoryTrails project will visit 15 UK towns and cities with free two day residencies in each location with local libraries at its heart. Starting in July 2022, the tour will visit Omagh, Dundee, Dumfries, Blackpool, Bradford, Sheffield, Lincoln, Wolverhampton, Swansea, Newport, Bristol, Swindon and Slough, ending in September in London (Lambeth and Lewisham).

StoryTrails is led by StoryFutures Academy and delivered in partnership with the BFI (British Film Institute), broadcaster and film-maker, David Olusoga, Uplands Television, and leading immersive specialists ISO Design and Nexus Studios. It will use cutting edge technology from Niantic, makers of Pokémon Go, and it will be brought to life in The Reading Agency’s national network of libraries and by event-making specialists ProduceUK.

The project will be recruiting the next generation of creative UK-based talent to help tell the stories of local communities. They will work closely with local people in each place to gather unknown, surprising and intriguing stories. Fifty creatives will be trained to use state-of-the-art immersive technologies to showcase and produce these stories in new and surprising ways. Led by StoryFutures Academy, the StoryTrails collective want to ensure that the UK’s creative industries are not only the best trained in the use of emerging and immersive technologies but that the future workforce properly represents the diversity of the UK. This project will aim to recruit those traditionally under-represented across the UK’s creative industries

Once the StoryTrails creative team have sourced and developed the stories together with members of the local community, audiences will be guided through an immersive tour of their town as they explore these stories across virtual and augmented reality (AR) and via a series of installations. Outside their local library, participants will enter the virtual story portal to begin the StoryTrails experience guided by a free mobile AR app. Using a mix of stunning AR experiences that remix the archive films from the BFI National Archive, national and regional film archives across the UK and the BBC Archive, people will experience history where it actually happened, revitalising the streets upon which they stand with new voices and untold stories of the past. Inside the library, participants will be immersed in a virtual map of their town that will be made up of 3D models, and audio stories captured on location, encouraging the audience to connect and experience their town in new and unimaginable ways. They will also have the opportunity to explore further stories via bespoke virtual reality experiences.

Professor James Bennett, Director of StoryFutures and the StoryTrails project, said:

“StoryTrails is a massively ambitious project: it will change the way we view our public places, our archives and our creative industries. It will create a new sense of belonging across these important national treasures and immerse audiences in an amazing new way to see themselves, their communities, their towns and country.”

Professor David Olusoga, Executive Producer for StoryTrails, said:

“I am thrilled to be working with StoryFutures to help bring about change in the diversity of our creative industries. By enabling 50 diverse creative voices to create compelling stories that combine past, present and future through the magic of immersive technologies, we’ll be mapping a new path for creativity in this country. StoryTrails will set the public’s imagination alight with experiences that use the poetry of history to inspire a new vision of our future.”

Ben Luxford, Head of UK Audiences at the BFI, said:

“Archive film provides unique windows into our past, and when explored at a local level, can be profoundly moving – not only inviting viewers to consider their history, but also their present and future. Opening up the rich and diverse screen heritage held in the BFI National Archive and UK national and regional archives to our most talented creatives, coupled with cutting-edge immersive technology, promises to create truly innovative stories and experiences, which will not only celebrate the people and places of our past, but also push the boundaries of how audiences engage with the moving image.”

StoryTrails will culminate with a specially commissioned film by David Olusoga’s Uplands Television which will screen in cinemas across the UK, which are part of the BFI Film Audience Network, and be made available to audiences on BBC iPlayer. Across this multiplatform project, film, immersive technologies and real-world locations will bring history to life and inspire a conversation around who we are, where we belong and where we are going.

StoryTrails will create an innovative approach to storytelling that appeals to a range of audiences in the UK and globally, creating one of the world’s largest immersive storytelling projects. It will change the way we can tell stories about ourselves, putting the promise of the 3D internet into the hands of people where they live and make the virtual and the augmented a magical reality for audiences everywhere.

For further details on StoryTrails visit story-trails.com and via Facebook and Instagram @StoryTrailsProject and Twitter @StoryFuturesA

Livestream the Booker Prizes shortlist event in your library

As we get closer to the announcement of the winner of the 2021 Booker Prize on 3 November, we’re delighted to offer libraries, colleges and secondary schools an exclusive opportunity to host a Booker Prize shortlist event.

As part of the Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 celebrations, join the 2021 Booker Prize shortlisted authors, alongside former Booker Prize judge and author, Lemn Sissay, for an evening of readings and conversation about their shortlisted books. This event will be held on Friday 29 October, 7-8.30pm.

Libraries, colleges and secondary schools will be able to stream this event either live on 29 October, or using a recording in the following days before the winner announcement on 3 October. Participating organisations will receive additional content to use in their event, including assets to promote the event online.

This is an exciting, new and exclusive opportunity for you to bring the Booker Prize shortlist directly to your library users or students.

Sign up to host an event.

Find out about the shortlist.

Download a free digital pack to promote the shortlist in your library.

Contact [email protected] if you have any questions.

Other Booker Prize events

The Booker Prize will be hosting a series of events with tickets available now:

The Reading Agency’s Reading Adventure launches to Year 6 and Year 7 pupils as part of ‘Get Islington Reading’

Islington schoolchildren will be the first in the country to try out a new, personalised game designed to encourage and maintain reading for pleasure during the transition from primary to secondary school. Called The Reading Adventure, the game has been developed by The Reading Agency, a leading national reading charity using the proven power of reading to change lives, in partnership with Islington Council’s Libraries Service and the borough’s young people.

The Reading Adventure was launched this week by the Mayor of Islington Cllr Troy Gallagher and The Reading Agency’s chief executive Karen Napier, at a special event at St Joseph’s RC Primary School in Archway, as part of the ‘Get Islington Reading’ programme. They were joined by Cllr Valerie Bossman-Quarshie, Islington’s Reading Champion, and Cllr Una O’Halloran, Executive Member for Community Development.

The pilot project launches in the borough ahead of a national rollout in 2022. It is designed to help children in Years 6 and 7 stay inspired to keep reading at a time when evidence shows reading for pleasure declines. The longer children can sustain a love of reading, the greater the benefits; 10-year-olds who enjoy reading have a reading age 1.3 years above their peers who don’t enjoy reading. This rises to 2.1 years for 12-year-olds and 3.3 years for 14-year-olds.

Karen Napier, CEO of The Reading Agency, said:

“The Reading Adventure provides a new way for young people to engage with the joys of reading at a crucial age where reading for pleasure often drops off. We know how important reading is for confidence and social connection to others, and hope that this game will inspire children in Islington to embrace a life-long reading journey.”

Cllr Valerie Bossman-Quarshie, Islington Reading Champion, said:

“The Reading Adventure is a great idea and an innovative way of accessing reading through a unique interactive game. It gives our children an exciting new way to continue building on their love of reading, encouraging progress by using topics that might interest them.

“We are proud to be the first council in the country to launch the Reading Adventure and support our young people to keep a love of reading through secondary school and into adulthood. Thanks to the Reading Agency and our brilliant young people!”

Children at St Joseph’s RC Primary were treated to a special video introduction to The Reading Adventure recorded by the Mayor of Islington, which sees him explain how the game works, with cameo appearances from people involved in the worlds of art and craft, music, science and technology, nature and environment, sport, and cooking. In the game, children control an avatar inhabiting a virtual reading room – these avatars were all designed by pupils at Christ The King RC Primary School in Finsbury Park.

After selecting an avatar and one of the six subjects, children can choose any text which relates to their specific challenge – for example, finding out about their favourite sporting hero or taking a book to read outside for 10 minutes. These can be long or short texts, audio books, graphic novels, comics or online information. Every child should be able to play The Reading Adventure, regardless of their reading interest or ability. Children can win in-game prizes as they complete each reading activity, and jump between subjects or advance to more challenging activities.

The pilot will be run in partnership with local libraries and school libraries, and include workshops and creative activities.

The Reading Agency: Keeping the nation reading in 2020

Jump to these sections:
World Book Night
Summer Reading Challenge
Teachers’ Reading Challenge
Costa Coffee Christmas Campaign
Read, Talk, Share
Reading Sparks
Looking forward…

Looking back…

In April 2020, the nation was firmly in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, struggling to adapt to unforeseen challenges. Covid-19 was not only a causing a health pandemic but a loneliness, mental health – and with children being out of education and having limited access to reading materials and in many cases suffering digital disadvantage – a learning deficit epidemic as well. With a mission to tackle life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading, The Reading Agency was compelled to respond by amplifying our commitment to bring its learning, wellbeing and social connectivity benefits to those who need them most. As the nation went into lockdown, with libraries and other social spaces closed and everyone at home, we found new and innovative ways of working, pivoting our programmes and campaigns to digital and virtual models to reach and engage more people across the UK than ever before.

Despite the challenges of 2020/2021, we were able to reach over 1.9 million children, young people, and adults through our work. Over 2 million books were read by children for the Summer Reading Challenge, and over 50,000 books were read by young people through our Reading Ahead programme. We also embraced digital training and virtual events, introducing our winter webinar series for reading professionals and the public and adapting our publisher’s annual Roadshow bringing publishers and the library sector together. Nearly 3,000 people were trained through virtual learning events and webinars, and over 300,000 children, young people and adults attended events and activities run by The Reading Agency and our partners.

“Like many charities, The Reading Agency has faced a multitude of challenges this year. The pandemic forced us to rethink our programme models and engagement strategies, whilst throwing into even sharper relief just how vital the proven power of reading can be in difficult times. In the last year, we have seen just how much people turn to reading for support, respite and restoration – and it has further strengthened our resolve to continue working tirelessly towards a world where everyone is reading their way to a better life.

From launching new digital platforms, to pivoting to virtual events, I am immensely proud of and thankful to our team, for demonstrating such positivity, commitment, and adaptability throughout the year. Despite the pandemic, we managed to increase our reach in the past year to share the proven power of reading with over 1.9 million people. We were hugely fortunate to receive an unprecedented level of funding from DCMS allowing us to expand our Reading Friends and Reading Well programmes across the country – at a time when tackling social isolation and loneliness and supporting mental health had never been more important. In addition, we also benefited from Arts Council England’s Emergency Funds and Covid Recovery Funding allowing us to maintain core functions as well as adapt our programmes to suit the new climate.

As we look forward to next year, and take tentative steps into a post-pandemic recovery, we are even more committed to our values and mission of tackling life’s big challenges spreading the joy and benefits of reading to as many people as possible, and to those who need it most. We are looking forward to collaborating with our fantastic partners, working alongside the libraries as they reopen, and expanding our reach even further.”
Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency

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Almost exactly a month before World Book Night 2020, the first national lockdown was announced. Despite this huge obstacle, cancellation was not an option and instead we sprang into action to ensure the celebration of books and reading would go ahead. Our national book giveaway was moved to October during Libraries week, when we hoped that organisations would have re-opened. We were able to deliver 50,000 books to people who don’t regularly read for pleasure or have access to books along with 5,100 audiobooks.

To find out how lockdown was impacting reading habits, we commissioned a survey and discovered that many people were turning to reading to help cope with the challenges of the pandemic. Our efforts were focused on what we could do to encourage even more people to read. One outcome was the launch of the #ReadingHour – a social media movement encouraging everyone to dedicate time to reading, whether that be 10 minutes or an hour, engaging adults and families alike. The estimated collective social media reach of both the #ReadingHour and our #WorldBookNight hashtag was over 14 million.

We were grateful to be supported by a host of organisations across the UK, including the BBC, as well as high-profile authors such as Margaret Atwood, Bernardine Evaristo and Matt Haig. Although the lockdown moved everything online, we were still able to help the nation stay connected through reading.

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With the pandemic still affecting day to day life and forcing closures, The Reading Agency was also forced to swiftly re-think the Summer Reading Challenge and pivot to a digital model going live 4 weeks earlier than usual at the beginning of June. The Challenge takes place in partnership with public libraries across the country – but as they closed due to lockdown restrictions, we had to create a new model to ensure children were still able to take part, engage in fun reading activities and avoid the summer reading dip’.
We wanted to ensure that despite the pandemic, we would work to reach the families who needed the Summer Reading Challenge the most and ensure that no one was left behind. We remained acutely aware of the ‘digital divide’ and knowing that not all households would have the resources to access digital platforms, we set to work on a plan to arrange physical donations.

We partnered with HarperCollins publishers, who agreed to donate over 260,000 books from Collins, their educational imprint. We added the books to 500,000 printed Summer Reading Challenge activity packs and then worked closely with our funder, Arts Council England, to get the packs out to families across the country.
The packs and books were distributed nationwide by Arts Council England as part of their Let’s Create packs, made possible thanks to National Lottery players. Arts Council England also worked with Bridge organisations to connect with food banks, community hubs and charities across the country – and we also ensured that 240,000 Summer Reading Challenge packs were sent out to other organisations such as Magic Breakfast and Civic.

Despite the challenges faced, the 2020 Summer Reading Challenge was a huge success, with our evaluation showing the impact of the programme. We reached a total of 527,354 children and families through public libraries, schools, community partners and our digital platform and over 2.2 million library books were borrowed! In a family survey commissioned following the Challenge, we found that 100% of respondents said their child maintained or increased their enjoyment of reading and just under 60% said that taking part helped their family cope better during lockdown and social distancing.

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The summer of 2020 also saw the inaugural year of the Teachers’ Reading Challenge, launched by The Reading Agency in partnership with the Open University. The new Challenge was created with the aim to support teachers and librarians in expanding their repertoire of children’s literature outside of the regular curriculum, exploring more contemporary and diverse children’s books. The Challenge also sought to equip them with the materials to actively promote reading for pleasure in their classrooms.

Given the stresses of the recent lockdown and school closures, the Teachers’ Reading Challenge was also a way of refocusing teachers on reading for pleasure for themselves and using the proven power of reading to support their own mental wellbeing.

A bespoke website was built for the programme, modelled on the Summer Reading Challenge. The online platform aimed to create a reading community for teachers and other education professionals, supporting them to deepen their knowledge of children’s books and reading, access resources and share recommendations and advice on encouraging their students to read more. Our expectations for the number of people who would sign up to the Challenge through the website during this pilot year were greatly exceeded. Our target for the summer was 500 sign ups, we received 2,430.

At the beginning of the new school term in September of 2020, The Reading Agency hosted a sell-out webinar on children’s reading for pleasure and how teachers can encourage it: Reading for Pleasure: The Nectar of Imagination. It was chaired by Hayley Butler, Head of Marketing and Communications at The Reading Agency, and the panel included: Professor of Education at the Open University, Teresa Cremin, teacher and blogger, Matthew Courtney, headteacher, Sonia Thomson and children’s author, Joseph Coelho. The webinar was attended by nearly 300 people on the night and the response to it was overwhelmingly positive.

“It was an excellent webinar and it really renewed my love for reading. Since lockdown it’s been hard trying to concentrate during reading. Instead of staring at the walls whilst eating lunch at school today I read a book & a pupil saw me read and we started a conversation around it. Later on, she chose a similar book because apparently she likes the same books as me!” – Survey respondent

The introduction of the Teachers’ Reading Challenge was a success: 95% of survey respondents said it increased their confidence in promoting reading for pleasure, 94% said it widened their knowledge of children’s literature, and 89% were introduced to at least one new author or poet because of it.

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Our awareness that digital is not accessible to all meant we were acutely aware of the need to get physical reading materials out to hard to reach and disadvantaged communities. Throughout the year, we worked closely with publishers and other partner organisations to implement several other book gifting initiatives. Over the Christmas period, we partnered with Costa Coffee on a Gift-A-Book campaign, inspired by Jolabokaflod, the Icelandic tradition of exchanging books with loved ones on Christmas Eve. Loosely translated, Jolabokaflod means ‘Christmas Book Flood’: 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.

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

Several high-profile personalities- 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 – also lent 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 and sharing their top reading choices.

The book care packages were very well received by communities who had been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and organisations gifting packages had wonderful things to say…

“It was wonderful to be able to give every family a gift after such a difficult year. For many children, this will be their only gift as so many families have fallen into real financial hardship.”
Welbourne Primary School, working with key worker and refugee families

“The gift packs went to service users, most of whom will be in hospital over the Christmas holidays. Similarly, the gift packs were a ‘thankyou’ to those NHS staff whose vital work keeps us fed and ensures that our hospitals are kept clean in these challenging times.”
Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust

“Oh my word what a total pleasure to be involved in this campaign. I was so very excited to deliver to the children, as were other staff members. I now Know Santa has the most rewarding job ever.”
Provide and Enable East

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The Reading Agency’s mission to use the proven power of reading to tackle life’s big challenges and our close work with public libraries was also recognised as important in Covid recovery. Enabled by a £3.5 million award.html by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), The Reading Agency was delighted to take on the challenge of supporting those most in need during the third lockdown through its Read, Talk, Share campaign focused on the national roll out of key areas of reading and wellbeing programme delivery through public libraries.

By working closely with local library services to reach communities, Read, Talk, Share expanded The Reading Agency’s already successful Reading Well and Reading Friends programmes and represented an unprecedented level of investment in public library services to tackle loneliness and support mental health. We and our library partners quickly mobilised to reach those most in need of social connectivity. We worked together to overcome the challenges of delivery in a pandemic, including the closure of library buildings and the difficulties of distance engagements, due to the flexibility, commitment and support of library staff and management.

Reading Well supports people in their journey towards better mental health by making helpful books recommended by health experts and people with lived experience easily accessible to readers of all ages. The Reading Agency worked closely with every library service across England to provide access in every library to our three Reading Well mental health lists for adults, young people, and children. Through the funding, a total of 311,783 books, ebooks and e-audiobooks were provided to 2,975 public and community branch libraries, making digital content available immediately through e-lending services with physical collections on library shelves to support click and collect and ready for when building re-opened.

Reading Friends is a befriending programme that starts conversations though reading to tackle the big life challenges of loneliness and social isolation. It brings people together to read, share stories, meet new friends, and have fun. Through the award, The Reading Agency was able to provide funding, training, and resources for 102 library authorities in England to deliver Reading Friends after receiving overwhelming interest from the sector. The programme proved its flexibility by reaching a broad and diverse range of audiences including new and expectant parents, young carers, older people, and those living with dementia.

The campaign was embraced by library authorities and reached over 3,772,000 people through The Reading Agency’s social media platforms. 70,248 books from the Reading Well collections were borrowed between January and May largely though digital e-lending services, helping to support children, young people, and adults to better understand and manage their mental health and wellbeing and, by extension, reduce their likelihood of experiencing debilitating loneliness. Over 600 partnerships with the library sector have also been delivering Reading Well in local communities: working in schools, Primary Care networks, social prescribing sites and more. Reading Friends formed 69,485 social engagements between 28 January and 31 May for those who felt lonely or who were at risk of experiencing high levels of loneliness — a huge number considering some library staff had been re-deployed, were shielding themselves and library buildings were closed, meaning activities needed to take place over the phone and virtually.

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In March of 2021 we announced the launch of Reading Sparks: a pilot project that would test and pilot new ways of using creative reading to increase STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) engagement. Enabled by funding from Arts Council England and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the innovative pilot project will be delivered between 2021-2023.

Reading Sparks is working with 11 library services serving communities experiencing disadvantage across England; loaning family science and reading activity bags and, in partnership with youth engagement organisations, working with young people aged 14-18 to co-produce new reading and science activities for families with children aged 4 – 11.

We already know that reading can spark enjoyment, greater empathy, academic attainment, and better life chances. This project intends to harness the proven power of reading to engage families with STEM and bridge the gap in science capital for families from lower socio-economic groups, teenage girls and ethnic minority communities. This is part of our organisation-wide focus on skills and learning as well as social mobility and supports our mission to tackle life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading.
Through this pilot we will be putting reading at the heart of the STREAM agenda (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Maths) and exploring a new multi-disciplinary approach that introduces new audiences to STEM through activities and methods driven by arts and reading.

In 2021 we are already building on the successes of last year. We celebrated ten years of World Book Night and fifteen years of Quick Reads with high profile authors and ambassadors working with us on the mission to get the nation reading. Our revigorated Reading Partners subscription offer is supporting more independent and small publishers than ever before. The 2021 Summer Reading Challenge returned with a new blended model allowing participation through libraries as they begin to reopen as well as online through our digital platform. This year’s Challenge was in partnership with WWF and followed an environmental theme – Wild World Heroes. This year we are piloting a new cross authority delivery model, working with ten authorities across the UK, to join up the library service’s Summer Reading Challenge offer with other local authority partners such as education, children’s services and public health to increase reach and engagement through schools and other settings. The Teachers’ Reading Challenge has a new Challenge completion model, website upgrades and resources ensuring it will have fantastic benefits for reading teachers across the country.

Our health and wellbeing programme, alongside Health Education England, launched Uplifting resources: for the NHS from the NHS. This crowd-sourced collection of ten books and a supporting list of digital resources, was recommended by NHS staff, for NHS staff to provide inspiration, give hope and promote wellbeing considering the enormous efforts by NHS staff during the pandemic. The Reading Agency is continuing to support the levelling up agenda. The expansion and development of programmes such as the new reading game app for transitional age children, the Family Reading Challenge to support adults with low literacy levels in settings such as prisons to read with their children, Reading Well developments for young people, Reading Friends groups including for new parents, the vulnerable and older people- will be available to support the nation in its recovery. We are looking ahead at The Reading Agency’s own 20th anniversary next year celebrating the importance of libraries, our publishing partners and the other partners and funders who make our essential work possible.

This year, countries, communities, organisations, and individuals are all still navigating the ongoing effects of the pandemic, and slowly beginning to navigate a tentative road to recovery. As libraries begin to reopen, and communities begin to reconnect, we remain focused on our mission to be stronger and more present than ever nationally. We endeavour in everything we do to create a world where no one is left behind; where everyone can read, enjoy reading and can use it to realise their ambitions for themselves, their families, friends, and their communities. We are looking forward to a year of growth, renewed opportunities, and a chance to continue nurturing the new partnerships we have developed. If the last year has shown anything, it is that our work is more vital than ever, and with the help of our partners and dedicated staff, we remain committed to placing the proven power of reading at the centre of the nation’s post-pandemic recovery.

The Reading Agency

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