On 19 November we celebrated our 10th birthday with a party at the British Library where Miranda McKearney, our Founder Director, gave the following speech.
Ten years ago
Ten years ago I was standing right here at this very lectern in the British Library launching The Reading Agency. It feels amazing to be back here tonight. The idea started at my kitchen table with fellow founders, Debbie Hicks and Anne Sarrag. We were freelancers, working with some fantastic librarians who were as alarmed as us that in a wealthy country, with free education, so many people's lives were still being blighted by literacy problems.
We were then - and still are - driven by our mission, which is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people to become enthusiastic readers. If you struggle with reading you can't participate fully in social, economic, cultural or political life. You just don't have an equal chance.
We set out to experiment with new ways to get people reading - practical, fun, social activities to inspire enjoyment and confidence. We put our bank balances and energy into getting some national experiments off the ground and put libraries at the very heart of our methodology, because the public library network is so vital to reading's accessibility. Martin Molloy of Derbyshire Libraries was our first Chair and we were supported by some fantastic authors - Jacqueline Wilson, Malorie Blackman, Mike Rosen, Kate Mosse. And crucially, the Arts Council and Library Association gave us start up funding.
Focus on those who need extra support
Today, we focus on helping people who need extra support to become readers - children in their formative years, disadvantaged young people and adults with poor literacy skills. We equip librarians, teachers, prison staff and college tutors with practical tools and training so they can reach out and inspire people to read through activities like reading challenges, reading groups and author events.
We now reach roughly 1 million people a year and research shows that our programmes increase people's reading range, motivation, confidence and skills. I'd love to share some of the things we're most proud of from the last decade.
The Summer Reading Challenge was our first very good idea and it is now run by wonderful librarians in 98% of UK libraries. This summer roughly three quarters of a million primary aged children took part, reading six library books, and get a much prized medal at the end. The Challenge was part of the Olympics' London 2012 festival and trended on twitter. The Challenge's simple magic can totally transform children's reading behaviours and attitudes. It now accounts for 20% of the children's books borrowed from libraries and every year encourages 55,000 children to join their library.
We've been supporting libraries in a new drive to involve teenagers in disadvantaged areas through My Voice, giving them real power to shape what happens in their library. They put on events - digital and physical -that they want their library to have. The programme gets many more young people in their community reading and using the library.
Read Louis Howell's short speech about the many opportunities volunteering with The Reading Agency's programmes has given him on our young people's page.
Our adult literacy Six Book Challenge started with Hull libraries in 2008. So far 71,000 adults have signed up to do it.
Kath Morgan, a recently retired Basic Skills Tutor at Bolton College, spoke about Jillian Leader whose confidence and self esteem was transformed by completing the Six Book Challenge. Read Jillian's story on our adults page.
Working with libraries, partners and authors
We are now the leading reading charity working with libraries to spread reading and delighted to welcome some fantastic librarians tonight. We are passionate about libraries' democratising role, and proud to work with the Society of Chief Librarians, the Arts Council and other library organisations on strategy, research, training and advocacy.
We also connect partners - from the BBC to the TUC - to libraries to build better opportunities for people to become readers. We have developed a crucial alliance with the publishing community and partner 40 of the country's leading publishers and fellow book world charities. I feel very privileged to welcome tonight more CEOs than I have time to name and a number of literary agents. With your support we are inspiring people in every kind of community to read more.
Through this work together we have launched our Ambassador initiative and I am thrilled to have with us Adele Parks, Akala and Edie Campbell. Plus a truly starry host of other stunning authors and illustrators, so many of who have been speaking out recently for the principle of democratic access to books. We are so honoured to have you here tonight, and can't imagine a world without your writing.
Tonight is my chance to say the most enormous THANK YOU to so many of you here - you have helped us change many lives.
So what next; what now? There's a very, very big job to be done. We're a divided society - there are those who read and love it, and those who can't and don't, with dire social consequences. In England alone 5 million working aged people have poor literacy skills as does half the prison population. Tragically, only 40 % of our young people admit to enjoying reading. All those blighted lives. We desperately need to blow those terrible statistics out of the water.
We have big ambitions to help more people. We've been doing our sums and we reckon that since 2002 we have, with our library and other community partners, created 7 million opportunities for people to get involved in compelling activities like reading challenges and reading groups. We know we'll be working in extremely turbulent conditions but the need is great, and we still aim to greatly expand our reach. We hope to create 10 million more opportunities by 2017 and to expand our work with libraries and begin working in new places like museums and hospitals, and with partners in our new home Freeword.
The Reading Agency will be doing its very best to help librarians and library users get beyond this age of austerity. We all know how extremely tough things are in some places, but we'll be helping libraries work collectively to maximise what money is available by sharing resources and ideas, and creating efficiencies of scale. There is huge potential for libraries to strengthen their role as social, community hubs for reading, to become an even stronger force for social change.
We'll help them too, develop compelling new digital reading experiences through our national library programmes - watch this space for the amazing Booksorter for children and parents. And we want to help libraries create a powerful new army of young volunteers who have a really big say in what future libraries services should be like.
To finish, I want to share our excitement about our new work on reading and health, which aims to bring reading's healing benefits to the 4 million people with anxiety and depression. I'm delighted to welcome tonight new partners from the Department of Health and Royal College of Psychiatrists - we'll be working with them and the Society of Chief Librarians to pilot a new era Books on Prescription scheme with GPs and to roll out our Mood-boosting Books initiative in which thousands of readers share recommendations for uplifting books.
We've got our running shoes on; we're on a next-decade starting block. We're determined to find new ways to give everyone the chance to become a reader. Please help us fight for a fairer society in which everyone has the chance to love reading. Because everything changes when we read.
It you would like to know more about how you can support us to give everyone an equal chance in life, by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers, please do get in touch.
We welcome contact from media professionals. We can provide expert comment and interviewees on the importance of reading and libraries. For all media enquiries please contact our communications agency, Stand or call 0203 6965800.
Out of hours, contact Sue Wilkinson or call 07789 380224