Prisoners champion Reading Ahead

More than 9000 prisoners from 90 prisons across the UK took part in our Reading Ahead programme during the last year. Reading Ahead is designed to help people improve their skills at the same time as developing an enjoyment of reading. Of these, nearly 5000 recorded six reads in their reading diary in order to get a certificate and a pocket dictionary or spelling or writing guide thanks to our partners Give a Book. Thirty-three prisons supported 50 or more prisoners to complete Reading Ahead. Five of these achieved 150 or more with top performer HMP Wandsworth recording 284 completers.

Author LJ Flanders launches Reading Ahead Champions pilot

To fulfil our aim of extending the reach and impact of Reading Ahead in prisons, we’re now piloting a new approach under the name Reading Ahead Champions. This was launched on Monday 25 November at an event at HMP Featherstone, one of six prisons in Staffordshire taking part in the six-month pilot. LJ Flanders (pictured above with prison library staff), author of Cell Work-Out and a former prisoner himself, talked to a large audience about the ups and downs of his life in prison and his life since his release in 2012 before running work-out sessions for staff and prisoners. His book, which details in words and pictures the exercises he used to get fit in his prison cell, now forms the basis of workshops that he runs in prisons across the country.

Library supervisor Adeline Fergus said: “The feedback has been phenomenal. The men were engrossed from the first moment he started talking.”

Having taken part in Reading Ahead (then called Six Book Challenge) while in HMP Pentonville, LJ, who is dyslexic, encouraged his audience to make good use of their time. “You have to accept that you are behind bars but take every opportunity they give you.”

Library staff in the six Staffordshire prisons have identified prisoners to take on the role of a Reading Ahead Champion. This will involve recruiting and supporting their peers to complete the challenge, helping them to use the library, choose reading materials and get started on their reading journey. The pilot is being evaluated so that lessons learnt can be built into further roll-out in 2020.

Progression routes for prisoners

The pilot was discussed at a national event for prison library and education staff held at Free Word on 8 November. Sixty delegates gathered to hear policy lead Ian Bickers, Quick Reads author Clare Mackintosh and library staff sharing good practice for running Reading Ahead. A panel session explored the potential for improving progression routes for people taking part in reading initiatives in prison such as the Shannon Trust Reading Plan, Reading Ahead and Prison Reading Groups.

Focus on ESOL

A morning session focused on a priority audience for Reading Ahead – prisoners with ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). Funded by The Bell Foundation, a three-year project has looked at the benefits of reading for pleasure for people learning English. Evidence gathered by Cloud Chamber Evaluation Services shows that Reading Ahead can be adapted to be an effective reading intervention for ESOL learners.

“The participant survey has consistently demonstrated how participants feel they have benefited, from improving their reading wider language confidence to enhancing their ability to access prison services, gain skills, and make them feel more prepared for life after prison.”

The full report and a range of creative tools and booklists to support ESOL learners taking part in Reading Ahead can be downloaded here.


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Give a Book

The Reading Agency wishes to express its enormous thanks to Give a Book for the charity’s impact on Reading Ahead since 2013. Up to July 2019, nearly 50,000 dictionaries and spelling/writing guides had been provided as a reward for prisoners who complete Reading Ahead by the charity Give a Book. In 2018-19, 90% of prison staff who participated in our annual online survey said the free dictionaries had been ‘very useful’ in encouraging people to complete Reading Ahead.

“Dictionaries are as popular as fiction here. They are definitely an incentive for the men to do the challenge.” (HMP Nottingham, 2018-19)

“It encourages reading and the incentive of receiving a dictionary makes it worthwhile, and a fitting reward for completing the challenge. Great idea and very necessary.” (HMP Chelmsford, 2017-18)

Our work in prisons is also funded by Bromley Trust, Balcombe Trust, Batchworth Trust, Beatrice Laing Trust, Peter Storrs Trust, Drapers’ Charitable Fund, The Hobson Charity and Gisela Graham Foundation.

The Reading Agency

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