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Reading Friends

Read, Talk, Share campaign: evaluation and impact

Written by The Reading Agency
12 January 2022

In December 2020, the U.K. government announced a £7.5 million funding package to help tackle loneliness over the winter period. The funding package was designed to help provide immediate relief to those most at risk, targeted at sectors known for their power and ability to bring people and communities together. Of the £5 million awarded to Arts Council England for arts and library services, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) awarded The Reading Agency £3.5m to work with public libraries across England to engage with and address the loneliness challenge.

Tackling life's big challenges through the proven power of reading

The Reading Agency is a national charity that tackles life's big challenges - including loneliness and poor mental health and wellbeing - through the proven power of reading. In 2020-21, The Reading Agency reached over 1.9 million people across the UK, including more than 950,000 children and over 900,000 adults and young people. It works closely with partners to develop and deliver programmes for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Through this commitment to its mission and vision, The Reading Agency is well placed to respond to public health concerns about the impact of loneliness on the mental and physical health of people across the UK.3

The DCMS funding represented an unprecedented level of investment in library services to tackle loneliness and support mental health. This DCMS support expanded and enhanced two of The Reading Agency's successful programmes: Reading Well Books on Prescription and Reading Friends. The funds were used to mount the Read, Talk, Share campaign, which provided Reading Well mental health book collections for children, young people and adults to all public libraries in England, as well as significantly expanding the delivery of Reading Friends - a social reading model using reading to bring people together and tackle loneliness - through libraries across England.

Key findings

Of the Reading Friends participants, we found that:

  • 72% of participants agreed that Reading Friends helped them feel less lonely
  • 83% of participants agreed that Reading Friends helped them to feel more connected to other people
  • 74% of participants agreed that Reading Friends added purpose to their week

Befrienders also experienced similar benefits - alongside professional outcomes such as new skills and increased confidence, gained in part to seeing the impact of their work and having a sense of purpose through doing something meaningful:

  • 77% of befrienders agreed that Reading Friends helped them to feel more connected to other people
  • 65% of befrienders agreed that Reading Friends added purpose to their week
  • 54% of befrienders agreed that Reading Friends had increased their confidence to try new things

Our Reading Well rollout saw 311,783 books distributed to 2,975 public and community managed libraries across 150 authorities. From January - May 2021, these books were loaned 70,248 times, consisting of:

  • 31,598 digital loans
  • 38,290 physical loans

24 book titles were donated to libraries by Hachette for free digital simultaneous access from March through June 2021.

Download a full overview of the Read, Talk, Share Evaluation. If you would like to read the full report, please contact us at info@readingagency.org.uk.

Download a one-page Reading Friends impact overview from 2021.

References

1. What Works Centre for Wellbeing (2020), How has Covid-19 and associated lockdown measures affected loneliness in the UK?; British Red Cross (2020), Lonely and Left Behind: Tackling Loneliness at a Time of Crisis; Mental Health Foundation (2020), Wave 8: Late November 2020 
2. Mental Health Foundation (2020), Loneliness during Coronavirus; Mind (2020) 
3. Campaign to End Loneliness (2020), Risk to Health 
4. Data to support the findings was collected primarily through participation and engagement monitoring; user and partner surveys; and qualitative interviews with stakeholders, participants and volunteers. Additional details on methodology can be found in the full Read, Talk, Share evaluation report. 

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