Gigi Jones is the Curriculum Manager for Functional Skills and Career Development at Haringey Adult Learning Service (HALS). We spoke to Gigi to find out how she and a team of from the HALS Learning Community including volunteers, learners, tutors and colleagues from the Library Service coordinated Reading Ahead over the past year and inspired a group of adult learners to start reading for pleasure.
We had held a really successful first World Book Night (week!) in 2018 as part of a real desire to boost our learners' engagement in reading for pleasure, and were looking to build on this start by joining Reading Ahead in 2019 with a second World Book Night planned as a key focal event.
We made a fantastic start with a key group of volunteers and learners forming the Reading Ahead project team, producing marketing material and promotional presentations, tracking sheets, setting up a small in house lending library as well as a book exchange and making class visits to drum up support and engagement. We had about 70 plus learners initially engaged! Our first learner completed the challenge and was presented with her certificate on 16th March 2020 and then COVID happened. We still managed our World Book Night with an online shared reading activity but it proved very difficult to follow up with Reading Ahead and the certificates all stayed in the box.
We kept up the promotion of reading for pleasure by hand delivering Reading Agency/Costa Coffee book boxes to vulnerable learners over Christmas and to all the learners who ventured in to our centre to sit exams during lockdown, as well as starting weekly shared reading sessions online. We were really pleased this year to team up for Reading Ahead with our fantastic colleagues in the library service where our learning centre is based. We identified champions from our tutor team and together they set up MS Teams sessions where a member of the Libraries Service parachuted in to online classes to set out the benefits of Reading Ahead and how to join. The incentive of a entering into a lucky dip to win a tablet to read electronically on helped! We continued with these Reading Ahead support and engagement sessions throughout our third World book Night week of online events which also included sessions on creative and memoir writing, poetry workshops, author talks and visits from publishing companies such as Our Lives Press. Learners continued to sign up online to the Reading Challenge and also produced a co-authored book with 103 authors from across our learning community called 'What Reading Means to Us.'
Our end of year Celebration of Achievement in July 2021 highlighted the Reading Challenge as a real achievement for learners and the prize draw for the Reading Ahead completer to win the tablet was broadcast to over 75 attendees including guest speakers David Lammy MP and Cllr Julie Davies. We were hugely pleased to see an Entry 1 ESOL learner win the tablet draw as the 6 book challenge was a major challenge indeed for her due to her being very much a beginner reader in English.
We really look forward to continuing on this journey with Reading Ahead and hope very much next year to be sharing books and celebrating reading with our learners on-site! Reading Ahead is a great way to give beginner readers, those who have never thought of reading for pleasure and those who are passionate about reading, a way to join together, share in a common goal, build connections and expand their life opportunities. A challenge, but definitely a worthwhile one!