Reading Ahead is the new name for the Six Book Challenge.
Jillian Leader, 49, left school aged 16 with almost no qualifications. She tells us how taking part in the Six Book Challenge at Bolton College has helped to turn her life around:
By aged 24 Jillian was married to Derek and had 4 children. With a busy life working part-time in various dinner lady and cleaning jobs and, in time, five grandchildren, she found it difficult to find the time to read. Although it was not diagnosed until later, Jillian's dyslexia meant that, although she would pick books up and want to read, it would take her such a long time to get through one that she often gave up.
In addition, Jillian has suffered from fibromyalgia, leading to depression, for nearly 30 years, so doctor's appointments took up a lot of her time. She says; "It's been very, very hard at times, but I just kept on going." When Jillian's life then went through a period of change she decided to do "something positive amidst all the chaos" and she enrolled at Bolton College to study English and Maths. During her time there one of her tutors, Kath, told her about the Six Book Challenge and she decided to give it a go.
"I think the books I read chose me, rather than me choosing them! I read Quick Reads books and they really helped me to get into reading properly. My first one was My Dad's A Policeman, and then the second one was by one of the Dragons from Dragon's Den - it was about how to change your life. I felt like I had the chance to change within my grasp. Whereas before it had taken me months to finish a book, I completed the Six Book Challenge in just six weeks!
For anyone out there who might be thinking about doing the Challenge but who is feeling a bit embarrassed or shy about their reading, I would say don't tell yourself you can't, have a go. There's lots of support and the Quick Reads books are great - and if I can do it, you can!
My husband came with me to see me get presented with my certificate at college. I felt quite proud of myself and I even gave a speech.
Now reading takes me into a different world. If you have got a book you are interested in, you feel like you are wrapped up in the book and going along with the characters.
Reading and doing the Six Book Challenge has also helped me with my spelling. Despite my dyslexia, now I am muddling my I's and my E's far less when I write, and I've got more confidence.
I think it's also helped me with my health. My doctor said to me recently that I'm looking at the world differently, and all the receptionists at my surgery - because I've had to go so often I've got to know them all - say I am looking better.
My mother died a few weeks ago. I loved her very much, we were very close and I was very upset, but when it came to her funeral my son and I sat down to plan what to say. I just jotted things down - memories and things that had meant a lot to us and all the family. I ended up filling two sides of A4 paper. Then, at the funeral, I stood up and read what I'd written, with no mistakes. Everyone said how good it was, and my husband - with tears in his eyes - said how proud he was of me. Before going to college and getting into reading, I think my mother dying would have made me crumble in the corner and just rely on antidepressants, but now I want to blossom.
I want to go so, so far with my reading and learning! I'm going to go back to college this September; I really want to do a GCSE in English, and maybe even an 'A' level, and I am going to do a counseling course too. I want to help other people who have the sorts of problems I have had. Being at college and doing the Six Book Challenge has made me feel really good, like I'm doing something special."
Find out more about Reading Ahead
Order materials to run Reading Ahead at your organisation.