Reading Champions in prisons: a case study HMP Birmingham

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This case study is taken from the reading events and groups section of Reading Champions. Read more case studies in this section

Prison librarian Sue Wilkinson has been nominating Reading Champions since 2002 and was very keen to be involved in developing a framework for Prison Reading Champions. Sue tells us how she has recruited prisoners as Champions:

I've tried to look for opportunities to bring not just regular library users into the scheme but any prisoner who is using reading - e.g. for research or by being a peer partner or Toe by Toe mentor.

Quite a few of them don't actually do much reading, but I am asking them to do the bronze award first, thus developing an appreciation and understanding of reading for pleasure. It has also been particularly useful with the reading group members - most of them have signed up for Reading Champions and several are on the verge of completing the bronze award. The scheme has provided them with a focus for their reading and enables them to gain acknowledgement for the work that they put in to developing a reading culture throughout the prison. Our first three Reading Champions were not at the time habitual library users, but were sent to us by the Chaplain to help us with a display for Black History Month. This involved them doing a lot of research and reading quite a few books they would not otherwise have read. They then promoted the display and the books featured to other prisoners and encouraged quite a few of their peers to take up reading.

I think that Reading Champions is very valid and provides an opportunity for keen readers to be rewarded for their enthusiasm and effort and for more reluctant readers to have something to aim for. In the slightly longer term, I'm hoping to win over our education department and try to get Reading Champions recognised as a progression for emerging readers, using Quick Reads and First Choice collections. I would also like to link it in with the family reading work that we do - perhaps with a "Dads and Lads" workshop, where dads with boys can learn how to share reading with their sons. I think the project will evolve as it goes along - because of the flexibility in the framework, individual prisons will work it according to their own circumstances.

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