As every ULR knows, motivation is key to getting colleagues into learning; motivation that comes from enjoyment and the satisfaction of making progress.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with ULRs for more than ten years and to see the results of this process. I’ve also seen that reading for pleasure – non-fiction as well as fiction - is an essential ingredient.
Whatever your reading level, if you find a text that interests you - whether that’s a graphic novel, a newspaper article or a short book – you are far more likely to want to repeat the experience. This in turn will encourage you to practise your new-found skills and, by doing so, improve them. It’s a virtuous circle I’ve seen time and time again.
ULRs across the country make this work, using books to engage and inspire their colleagues. I remember my first meeting with ULRs when, thanks to unionlearn, we brought them together with a group of librarians in Leeds Town Hall. There was an immediate spark, resulting in some great partnerships in support of our Six Book Challenge programme in factories, mail depots and even Corus steel works in Yorkshire. Staff at Fletcher’s Bakery and Fox’s Biscuits were picking up books for the first time since school and getting hooked.
The model spread to other parts of the country and to more unions, spearheaded by my colleague David Kendall. Hospitals, councils and transport companies like Merseytravel and Transport for London got on board. More recently UNISON and Usdaw have both championed the Challenge, now called Reading Ahead, at national level, providing guidance and case studies for their project workers and ULRs.
Quick Reads, now part of The Reading Agency, have been crucial to this story. With the support of unionlearn, thousands of copies have reached workplaces every year, giving people the chance to try a short book by bestselling authors such as Peter James, Roddy Doyle, Adele Parks and Jojo Moyes.
Quick Reads authors, ranging from Joanna Trollope to Andy McNab, have visited works depots, mail rooms and factories and found it an eye-opening experience. Andy McNab has been one of our most committed ambassadors and we’re thrilled that he’s the inaugural winner of the Ruth Rendell Award for his outstanding support for literacy. His first visit for us was to McVitie’s in Manchester where ULRs from Usdaw were running the Six Book Challenge. His audience that day, a mix of factory workers and managers, were bowled over by his story of how his life had been changed by the army education system: "If I can do it anyone can do it."
Reading for pleasure fits with so many agendas and can, quite literally, change lives. As well as boosting confidence and increasing skills, it opens doors to so much more: to people supporting their children’s learning, joining their local library and finding that reading can reduce stress and improve their quality of life.
With six new Quick Reads in bookshops and libraries and Reading Ahead available as a challenge to new and more confident readers alike, there’s every reason to create a buzz around reading in the workplace.