What can we learn from the UK?

Representatives from three major reading and literacy agencies in the UK share their top tips for planning and implementing successful national reading programs.

As part of our national reading symposium, VOLUME, Australia Reads representative Anna Burkey spoke with senior staff members from three major literacy and advocacy organisations in the UK: The Reading Agency, National Literacy Trust, and Scottish Book Trust.

From the research that drives these programs, and the partnerships that support them, this series of conversations explores how these organisations are each delivering diverse reading campaigns and programs across a wide range of audiences.

Watch the VOLUME session here

As part of this session, we asked these leading experts to share their advice and insights for planning and implementing successful national reading programs. Here were some of their top tips:

Know your audience and meet them where they’re at

“Everything we do is audience-led,” says Philippa Cochrane from the Scottish Book Trust. “We start by looking at, talking to, consulting with, and thinking about our audience and what they need.” Debbie Hicks from The Reading Agency agrees – central to their program design is a “real commitment to an understanding of the need of our audiences” which leads to “authentic co-production with communities.” “Start with your audience’s values and build on those,” says Jonathan Douglas from the National Literacy Trust, “rather than trying to project outward from your own passion for reading, which isn’t always engaging.”

Identify key partners and speak their language

Achieving goals around reading “is not just the work of one sector” says Jonathan Douglas, it requires a collaborative approach – because “literature and reading is everybody’s business.” Whether from the corporate, philanthropic, government, or community sectors (or, in many cases, a mix of these partners), working out who your key partners are is integral to creating a successful reading program: “Learn to speak their language to get them on side,” says Debbie Hicks, “and identify the common ground that you can build on together.”

Gather evidence and present it well

Research and evidence was also identified as a crucial component of success. For Jonathan Douglas, a “data-driven approach” is central the National Literacy Trust’s work, and allows them to make a strong case when approaching partners and measuring impact. Debbie Hicks also identifies evidence as a key pillar of success: “Understand need, be able to qualify impact, and align value against the priorities of the partners that you want to work with,” says Hicks. “I think we all want to change the world, but we have to prove that we can do so.”

Be passionate and ambitious in your vision

‘Dream big’, was a recurring theme for our UK-based speakers. For Jonathan, this means having ambitious, long-term goals which balance “top-down, and bottom-up approaches”. For Philippa Cochrane, this is about being bold and “pro risk” in order to engage readers in new and innovative ways. And for Debbie Hicks, this means being passionate: “I think its infectious and, with it, you can really sell the message about reading, even to those who are outside the reading world.”


VOLUME was presented in September 2023 and was generously supported by Creative Australia. Find out more about the program, and watch back session recordings, via our website.