Photo of two teenage boys sat with an adult man looking at a book. There are bookshelves in the background.

What is Reading Ahead?

Reading Ahead builds reading confidence, skills and encourages everyone to read more. Run in prisons, public libraries, colleges, adult community learning settings and workplaces, Reading Ahead engages people in the joy of reading, often for the first time, which in turn helps them to improve their language and literacy skills. 

Participants choose six reads: books, magazines, recipes, letters – anything! After completing each read, they share their thoughts on what they’ve read by filling out a review in a personal Reading Diary and work towards receiving a certificate of achievement. Readers can use our reading database to search for material at the right reading level and practitioners can access a hub of supporting guidance, learning resources and promotional materials on our Resources database.

Who is it for?

Reading Ahead is aimed at young people and adults who are less confident readers and those who want to improve their literacy and language skills or get back into reading. It is run in by UK prisons, public libraries, colleges, adult community learning centres and workplaces. 

A middle aged man in a library smiles reading a copy of Nightingale Point by Luann Goldie
An icon of a person sitting and reading a book.

Adults who read for just 30 minutes a week are 20% more likely to report greater life satisfaction

Reading for pleasure enhances empathy and the ability to understand others’ identities


Prisoners champion Reading Ahead

To fulfil our aim of extending the reach and impact of Reading Ahead in prisons, we are piloting a new approach under the name Reading Ahead Champions.

If you would like to take part in Reading Ahead, please contact your local library or learning provider for further details or get in touch [LINK] for information on where Reading Ahead is being offered locally. 

If you are interested in delivering Reading Ahead, you can order materials and print packs from The Reading Agency’s shop [LINK] Reading Ahead 2023-24 PRINT PACKS | The Reading Agency. You will need to order one of the core packs to get started. 

How to get started with Reading Ahead 2023-24 

  1. Purchase a print pack for the required number of participants from The Reading Agency Shop. Packs are available to purchase in quantities of 50 (single), 100 (double), 150 (triple) or 1000 (mega). You will receive a welcome letter and participant sign-up form with your order. 
  2. You will receive the Organisation Sign-up form with your order confirmation email. **Please return this via email to [email protected] 
  3. If you don’t already have an account, please create a new login, known as a Reading Agency Passport. 
  4. The Reading Ahead Toolkit, with guidance on how to run the programme in your organisation, will be attached to your order confirmation email. It can also be downloaded from the Reading Ahead Resources area. 
  5. We offer a range of incentive items that can be used to encourage and congratulate Reading Ahead participants on their reading journey. These can be purchased from The Reading Agency Shop. 
  6. Prison librarians and prison staff – Thanks to generous support from Give A Book [LINK]Home • Give a Book, those running Reading Ahead in prisons are gifted free dictionaries for their completers. Contact [email protected] when your participants have completed Reading Ahead for further information on how to receive your dictionaries. 

For enquiries and support with orders, please contact [email protected].  

For programme queries and guidance on how to run Reading Ahead at your organisation, please contact [email protected].  

The Reading Agency announces its drive to tackle the UK adult literacy crisis

The Reading Agency has today launched a new fundraising campaign focused on improving adult reading confidence across the UK.

The ‘Reading Power’ campaign aims to raise funds to deliver vital reading programmes and resources to the 8.5 million adults in the UK with low literacy skills. Funds raised will support The Reading Agency’s programmes like Quick Reads and Reading Ahead which provide accessible reads, tools and encouragement to help adults improve their reading confidence and ability.

With 1 in 6 UK adults struggling with reading, The Reading Agency is determined to tackle the national adult literacy crisis which limits life chances and access to work and health services. Adults with poor literacy face social isolation, stigma, and exclusion as they are unable to complete simple daily tasks many take for granted like reading a utility bill, instructions on medication or their child’s school report.

The charity is calling on the public to donate and help create a future where every adult can access the joy of reading and embrace its benefits for wellbeing, self-esteem and life prospects. As little as £10 can provide reading resources and guidance that help someone improve their reading skills and confidence.

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency said: “With so many adults in the UK lacking vital literacy skills, we want to empower people to unlock the life-changing power of reading. Our programmes have helped hundreds of thousands of readers grow their skills and confidence. But we urgently need support to reach millions more struggling with literacy, to help them gain skills, confidence and access to reading’s enriching benefits.”

Visit the fundraiser platform to support the charity’s mission and give adults the power of reading.


For all enquiries, please contact:
Alexander Turton [email protected]

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.


Give a Book.jpg

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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