Reading Ahead is the new name for the Six Book Challenge.
William Waite, 46, from Watford is a branch secretary for Usdaw and the on-site union learning rep at Tesco Watford Extra. He has been running the Six Book Challenge with colleagues since January 2014 through a partnership between Usdaw union learning representatives and management. Here he tells us about the life-changing role that reading has played within his family, and the impact that the Six Book Challenge has had in his workplace.
My father left school without learning how to read and write
My parents are from south Wales. My father came from a mining family and he left school aged 13 to work and help bring money in. He did building work, then he and my mother moved to Watford, where he found work as a dustman.
Like any kid, when I was growing up I wanted my parents to read to me. I remember that my Dad used to make up loads of excuses or tell me to go to bed. I know now that he must have been embarrassed about not being able to read. It must have been a lot for him to carry: if we got any bills or letters my mum, who could read and write a bit, would open them and read them.
But when I was at school and he was in his forties, he started going to night classes to learn to read and write. I really admired him for taking that step, even though he wasn't a young man any more.
It changed his life. I got married and had children, and he was able to read with his grandchildren and tell them stories. My kids loved his stories and thought they were the best in the world! Dad died a couple of years ago, but it was his determination to learn to read and write that inspired me to better myself and to do the union learning work that I do now.
A great bonding exercise
When I first heard about the Six Book Challenge I thought it would be great to run it in my workplace. I had great support from a couple of colleagues and we ended up getting 86 people signed up, from senior management level and right across the board.
It's been a great bonding exercise. People who were not confident at all about reading have got involved, and have started having conversations about what they are reading with colleagues they'd never spoken to before. It's created a real buzz.
The great thing about the Six Book Challenge is that you can read anything you want. Colleagues who are mums have been really pleased and surprised, for example, when I've told them that reading a bedtime story with the children counts towards completing the Challenge.
A real sense of achievement
The Six Book Challenge can be that really important first step towards getting into studying and learning. It gives people a real sense of achievement.
Personally, I'll read for a couple of hours on my day off. I love books about history and working life. Reading more has given me knowledge, helped improve my spelling and writing, and made me more confident about talking to people. It's opened so many doors for me: I've become the vice-chair of my parish council, and I've just chaired my first meeting.
Sometimes when I'm talking to colleagues about learning at work or the Six Book Challenge, they will say, "I'm too old to learn something new". I'll tell them about my dad. As his story showed me, you are never too old to start learning something new. Take small steps, believe in yourself, and the world's your limit!
Find out more about Reading Ahead
Order materials to run Reading Ahead at your organisation.