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Summer Reading Challenge a success in the South West

  • Date: 15 November 2013
  • Artform: Dance, Libraries, Literature, Visual arts
  • Area: South West
Second Hand Dance, Creepy House Dance Tour, 2013 Second Hand Dance, Creepy House Dance Tour, 2013, Photo courtesy of Pavilion Dance South West

A national initiative encouraging children to read during the summer holidays saw record highs in the South West, with library services joining forces with arts organisations.

This summer, 15 library services across the South West of England created a fantastically imaginative programme of free literature and arts and craft activity as part of Summer Reading Challenge, the UK's biggest annual reading promotion for four to 11 year olds. The initiative took place from 13 July to 14 September 2013 and is coordinated by Arts Council England National portfolio organisation The Reading Agency and the public library network.

Record results

By working in partnership and with arts organisations, South West libraries achieved fantastic results. The initiative produced 87,793 starters and 53,047 finishers in the South West, breaking targets of 80,000 and 50,000 respectively. This meant 2013 saw a 15% increase in starters (+11,754 children) and 16% increase in finishers (+7,150 children).

Libraries also attracted 623 young volunteers (under 24 years old), over 200% more than last year, many of whom completed their Arts Award accreditation.

Sarah Hillier, County Children's Librarian for Wiltshire Council and Chair of South West ASCEL says, 'The collaborative work in the South West was new, and in particular, introducing a different sort of art form in the library as a way of promoting and extending the challenge was an eye opener. Working as a region to achieve Arts Council funding was something for the region to be proud of too, especially with the short timescale and capacity issues.'

This year's theme was Creepy House, illustrated by award winning Chris Riddell, which South West libraries drew on to great effect. A specially commissioned Creepy House Dance performed by Second Hand Dance and funded by Arts Council England's National Lottery Grants for the arts toured the South West libraries, complementing the programme.

Creepy House Dance Tour

The Creepy House Dance Tour happened thanks to another ingenious partnership. Arts Council National portfolio organisations Pavilion Dance South West, Real Ideas Organisation, and The Reading Agency joined forces with South West Association of Chief Librarians (SW ASCEL) and the national membership network of Senior Children's and Education Librarians, ASCEL.

Zannah Doan, Regional Producer for Pavilion Dance South West, was responsible for producing the Creepy House Dance Tour. She did everything from liaising with ASCEL and SW ASCEL, commissioning Second Hand Dance, and visiting every receiving library to writing and producing the print, booking and co-ordinating the tour and evaluating the project.

She explains, 'ASCEL invited me to join their project planning team in February as the majority of the libraries were interested in working with dance and Pavilion Dance South West is the regional dance development organisation.

'It was really rewarding to have produced a tour that had so many positive outcomes. 50% of the children had never seen a dance show before. And seeing the number of boys and parents really engaging with the event and entering into the investigative spirit was an incredible high!'

Ciara Eastell, Head of Libraries, Culture and Heritage at Devon County Council and President-Elect of the Society of Chief Librarians said, 'The Creepy House Dance project presented an exciting opportunity for children and families across the South West to experience high quality dance in a library setting. It was a great example of what can be achieved when we work together and with arts partners.'


Organising an Area-wide Summer Reading Challenge and the associated Creepy House Dance Tour posed many challenges for all partners.

As part of her role as Chair of SW ASCEL, Sarah led a small strategy group that included Kate Murray from South West Association of Chief Librarians and Katie Lusty from Arts Council England, which set the Summer Reading Challenge targets for the South West and agreed the advocacy and communications strategy.

Sarah explains, 'The scale of participation in the Summer Reading Challenge is always a challenge, lots of people are involved in the management - from The Reading Agency who manage the programme nationally, to South West and local organisational issues. There are lots of partners we need to promote to/get on board - not least schools and families.'

Zannah agrees, 'There was a huge amount of detailed work that had to be done to ensure that all the stakeholders knew what was going on and to ensure that we created a positive experience for everyone involved - children, parents, librarians, dancers. It had to be a confident show pitched just right so that there was something for each child in the wide four to 11 age range. Second Hand Dance brought the creativity and experience which achieved that.

Sarah juggled several roles - including coordinating Summer Reading Challenge activity in Wiltshire. She says, 'I led the children's team that manages the challenge each year, including co-ordinating and distributing materials and guidance/training for staff, and volunteers. Managing volunteers takes a lot of work, but they are invaluable in making the programme run well.'

Foundation for future collaborations

For libraries and arts organisations, this year's partnership provided a new way of working and helped forge relationships for future collaborations.

Zannah says: 'The positivity and willingness of the librarians we worked with was outstanding and provided an important foundation for this new programme. Some relationships were forged at a local level between dance organisations and libraries and these have already resulted in more dance work in libraries, which is the most sustainable outcome we could ask for.'

Sarah agrees: 'Working with dance partners, not least Zannah Doan and the dance team, was exciting, and their support and creativity much admired and appreciated. Working with dance was completely new for me and many other South West authorities but it really worked, feedback was great and we hope to build on this next year as a region.

To learn more about the Summer Reading Challenge, see