The Reading Agency is a charity that promotes reading and libraries. One of the ways it does this is through its Six Book Challenge, a scheme that involves adult learners agreeing to read six books each. The scheme was piloted by libraries in Hull last year. Participants were given incentives such as free DVD loans with each book they borrowed and were presented with certificates when they completed the challenge. The challenge was then trialled by all 15 library authorities in the Yorkshire and Humber area in partnership with the BBC. Now it is set to go national and the corporate sector has got on board.
The Reading Agency has enlisted the support of coffee shop chain Costa, which last year took over sponsorship of what were formerly known as the Whitbread Book Awards. Under the partnership, everyone who signs up to the Six Book Challenge will receive a Costa coffee card that entitles them to a free cup of coffee at a Costa outlet. All those who successfully complete the challenge will be entered into a prize draw that offers the chance to win an all-expenses-paid trip to London.
"The Reading Agency had been talking to Costa for some time about trying to identify an area that the company would feel keen and happy to support," says Genevieve Clarke, national coordinator at the charity. "We'd known for some time that it was interested in literacy. There was a range of possibilities, but we settled on the national challenge as the one to go for."
Costa was approached by several charities after it began sponsoring the book awards, but it did not want to make an immediate decision. "We were very keen from the beginning that this wasn't simply going to be a badging exercise, as so many sponsorships can be," says a spokeswoman for Costa. "We didn't want to jump into a corporate social responsibility project immediately. We wanted to get to grips with the awards and have an understanding of the general book environment. The Reading Agency's key goal is to get more people reading, and Costa is very keen to get great books for more people. The two aims sat very well together."
In three cities - Glasgow, Leeds and Liverpool - the Reading Agency will also try to facilitate a closer relationship between library services and Costa. Events will be held in Costa stores and the firm will work with local literacy groups.
There are also plans for the challenge to be extended to prisons. Library services across Yorkshire have successfully experimented with encouraging inmates to take the challenge. "It's about encouraging an audience that we feel it is incredibly important to encourage," says Clarke. Costa wants to support the initiative in other parts of the country, with prizes that will include taking authors to prisons for reading-group sessions.
Costa is providing financial support to the Six Book Challenge but declined to say how much.