During the 1990s, Miranda McKearney OBE, Anne Sarrag and Debbie Hicks worked with librarians to create three small organisations which explored new solutions to social issues caused by literacy problems. They felt there was potential for public libraries to play a bigger role in helping people become confident readers. The organisations were called Well Worth Reading, LaunchPad and The Reading Partnership.
Around Miranda's kitchen table they brainstormed new approaches and started new programmes like the Summer Reading Challenge. The work grew hugely, and the three small organisations were merged to form a charity called The Reading Agency, launched at the British Library in 2002.
Driven by the belief that if you struggle with reading you can't participate fully in social, economic, cultural or political life, The Reading Agency set about creating new programmes and partnerships to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people to become enthusiastic readers.
In the early days Martin Molloy of Derbyshire Libraries was the Chair of trustees and the charity was supported by some fantastic authors including Jacqueline Wilson, Malorie Blackman, Michael Rosen and Kate Mosse. And, crucially, the Arts Council and Library Association provided start-up funding. (Jacqueline Wilson with children from a Chatterbooks children's reading group in Worcestershire.)
Since 2002 the social impact of The Reading Agency has grown. In our first ten years we helped create seven million opportunities for adults and children to get involved in motivating and confidence building activities like reading challenges and reading groups. We're proud that we've helped millions of people to enjoy reading, often for the first time, by developing new national programmes. And proud to be the charity specialising in helping libraries increase their impact- because libraries are the ultimate democratisers of reading.
Some of our highlights
2002 - Launched The Reading Agency
2003 - Ran a campaign to inspire more reading by involving all public libraries in the BBC's Big Read
2004 - Launched a Reading Partners scheme with publishers to get author events happening in all libraries across the UK. The scheme started with 5 publishers and now involves over 40 partners. (Right: Zadie Smith at an event we helped arrange at Swiss Cottage library in 2013. Credit: Justin Thomas.)
2005 - For the first time, over 600,000 children participated in the Summer Reading Challenge; they borrowed 16.3 million library books.
2006 - We won an Arts and Business award for Orange's sponsorship of Chatterbooks children's reading groups. There are now over 800 clubs in libraries and schools.
2007 - Created the adult literacy Six Book Challenge to help more people build their reading skills and confidence. Has now reached more than 71,000 people.
2008 - Ran a library membership campaign in the National Year of Reading with the National Literacy Trust. 2.3 million people became new library members.
2009 - Worked with other charities to help found Freeword, a new centre for literacy, literature and free expression.
2010 - Spread the reach of the Six Book Challenge to 90 workplaces and 50 prisons.
2011 - Launched Reading Groups for Everyone so far more people could benefit from sharing their reading. 2,500 reading groups joined
2012 - Celebrated our tenth birthday by holding our first annual lecture with writer Jeanette Winterson at the British Library. (Right, Jeanette Winterson)
2013 - A record breaking 810,089 children took part in the 2013 Summer Reading Challenge in libraries whilst another record breaking 35,000 young people and adults took the Six Book Challenge. Launched Reading Well Books on Prescription, and was given £1million by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to develop our Reading Activists programme for disadvantaged young people.
Find out more about our programmes and impact.
Please help us continue to help people feel inspired and confident about reading by making a donation.