Reading challenge kick starts the New Year

16 Jan 2015

David Kendall, Program Manager, Six Book Challenge, writes: “100 prisons supported the Reading Agency’s first ever Six Book Challenge’s Winter Campaign. Throughout 2014 over 9000 prisoners took part in the challenge, which invites participants to read six books of their choice and record their thoughts and achievements in a diary. We’re hoping to get 10,000 prisoners to take up the Challenge this year.

Each year, the Challenge runs from January to July and we decided to launch something different over Christmas and the New Year period to help encourage people to get reading over the holidays and have a positive start to 2015.

The Winter Campaign, supported by NOMS, ran for a month from December to January and has been a real success. To support and promote the campaign, National Prison Radio association ran a series of programmes all about books, speaking to readers and authors who support the Six Book Challenge. Each programme was recorded at a different prison including: Thameside, Brixton, Styal, Lewes, Pentonville and Featherstone. During the interviews, prisoners gave their different reasons for doing the Challenge, describing what they liked to read, and how reading helped them do their time.

Mathew, HMP Pentonville, told listeners: “It’s given me more get up and go. Just to pick up a book and read. Before that I’d never thought about reading a book. I’d rather sit there and watch TV. I’d never picked up a book before coming into prison, and it has opened a lot of doors. If it weren’t for the Six Book Challenge I wouldn’t have read at all. I’ve learnt a lot through it.”

Jason, HMP Featherstone, said: “I stopped going to school when I was nine. Crime was a way of life for me. I was in prison when I was 14. I couldn’t really read. I started reading comics and then I went onto novels. It was like a whole world opened up to me. Now I’m a ferocious reader.”

Prisoners also got the opportunity to meet authors Martina Cole, Andy McNab, and Russell Brand who visited prisons during the campaign. Speaking about his love of books to a group of prisoners at HMP Thamside, Russell Brand said: “A lot of the answers to the problems in your life lie in books. Books are kingdoms of new ideas, identities…the way you can feel can change. Escape is one thing it can offer to a world of imagination, if you are free in your mind, no one can cage that.”

The campaign will be evaluated by how many more people took up the Challenge and how many completed it. So far we know HMP Ranby reported 96 people signed up and 39 completed it. Everyone who completes the challenge will receive a mini dictionary from Give A Book in recognition of their achievement.

Mark, a prisoner who took part in the challenge at HMP Brixton, said: “Since coming to prison I’ve been gradually been reading more and more. I started the Six Book Challenge to prove could do it because I used to be one of those people who picked a book up but never completed it. I’ve got through 5 books so still one more to complete but I’m getting there. I feel good in myself.”

Staff have already given us really good feedback. A librarian from HMP Wandsworth said he had a queue of prisoners waiting to get their diaries after the Christmas broadcasts. Many other librarians said it was good to be offering something positive for people to focus on at what can be a difficult time of the year when people are separated from their families. Over Christmas there are also less activities available, but thanks to the Winter Campaign, many prisoners had the opportunity to read and talk about books, rather than being locked up with nothing to do.”

 For further details on the Six Book Challenge in prisons contact David Kendall.