On International Literacy Day, 8 September, we called on partner organisations to help us reach 50,000 participants for our annual Six Book Challenge in 2015 as part of our drive to improve adult literacy in the UK.
We announced our goal at a special reception at 11 Downing Street hosted by Frances Osborne (pictured), wife of Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, with authors, publishers, policymakers, other charities and representatives from the wide range of organisations which take part in the Six Book Challenge.
Together we celebrated the success of the Six Book Challenge, which this year reached well over 40,000 people through public libraries, adult community learning settings, FE and sixth form colleges, prisons and workplaces with the support of trade unions.
Six Book Challenge endorsed in government report
The Six Book Challenge is increasingly recognised as a key intervention using reading for pleasure to help tackle the UK's continuing skills deficit.
It is today cited as an example of a multifaceted approach to adult learning in a report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee calling for a more flexible, better funded and joined-up way of tackling what it describes as the 'alarmingly low levels of adult literacy and numeracy in England'.
Messages of support
Speaking at the 11 Downing Street reception our chief executive Sue Wilkinson (pictured with our Ambassadors and other speakers) said: "We need everyone's help to reach at least 50,000 people in 2015 because we know the difference participating in the Challenge can make to people's lives and to society as a whole. When Amy Gaskin from Nottinghamshire completed the Six Book Challenge she said that she felt like 'a new, more confident person'. That is how we want everyone to feel because we believe that everything changes when we read."
Speakers included representatives from public libraries, colleges and prisons and bestselling authors Adele Parks and Andy McNab, who are both ambassadors for the Six Book Challenge along with fellow bestselling author Martina Cole.
Adele Parks (pictured with fellow ambassador Andy McNab) said: "Books make us - mere mortals - transmute into something quite extraordinary. Reading makes us powerful, compassionate, liberated, interesting and interested. Of course I whole-heartedly support any scheme that gifts such wonders to so many individuals."
"This is a fantastic scheme," commented Andy McNab. "I've seen it working in prisons, the Army and lots of workplaces where it's got people into reading for the very first time. I know what that feeling's like and we need to make sure that many more people get the chance to change their lives too."
Jack Carney, principal of The Manchester College which supported 510 people to complete the Six Book Challenge in 2014, said: "It is a wonderful way to encourage learners to pick up a book, and we have seen attitudes towards reading change and confidence amongst participants soar."
Mohamed Mahyoub, 22, (pictured with Janet Puzylo, development librarian at LiveWireWarrington) moved to the UK from Yemen with his family when he was 14, and has set up his own web development business and a multicultural youth initiative in Warrington and graduated from university with first class honours. He said: "When I completed the Six Book Challenge it felt like a real achievement. I was proud of myself and being able to put it on my CV pushed my confidence up. Being able to read with confidence felt like the difference between being blind and then being able to see."
The event was supported by blinkbox Books, Tesco's new ebook service. blinkbox Books managing director Gavin Sathianathan said: "At blinkbox Books we are passionate about reading in any form, regardless of what or where you read. Initiatives like the Six Book Challenge that encourage us to make room for reading in our increasingly fast paced lives are to be applauded and we're hugely proud to be supporting this important initiative."
The event also coincided with the launch of the Read On Get On literacy campaign, with the goal of ensuring that by 2025 every 11 year old child will be able to read well. Achieving this objective will require every adult around those children to be able to read well too.
_All photos by Tom Parkes for The Reading Agency. Main picture prison development librarian Alison Hayton and author Dreda Say Mitchell_
You can see photos from the event on our Flickr page.
Please see our resources page or contact Genevieve Clarke if you'd like to know more about running the Six Book Challenge. Packs of reading diaries, certificates and publicity items are available in our shop including bilingual materials for use in Wales.