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Books Unlocked is a reading initiative targeting enjoyment of reading and access to quality literature, working through prison and young offender institution library reading groups, schools, colleges, public libraries and community reading groups.

Since 2012, with funding from the Booker Prize Foundation, Books Unlocked has been supporting young offenders and prisoners to increase their enjoyment and frequency of reading by offering them the opportunity to read, discuss and own Man Booker Prize-shortlisted titles. HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, Patron of the National Literacy Trust, expressed support for the Books Unlocked project in her speech at the Man Booker Prize ceremony in 2015.

Books Unlocked community model 2015/16

Over the past two years Books Unlocked has worked with schools and a community reading group in one area alongside prisons and young offender institutions (YOIs), giving individuals and groups the opportunity to share their opinions across a broad spectrum of settings within a community.

In 2015/16 we will expand this model to work across whole communities, through teachers, librarians and other community leads, to reach young people, young offenders, prisoners, community reading groups and the wider community, encouraging a shared community approach to reading for enjoyment. The programme has key outcomes for all of these groups and for the community as a whole. There will also be an increased number of Man Booker Prize-shortlisted titles available to participants.

"I am just starting to enjoy reading again”

Participant, HMP Forest Bank

Books Unlocked will continue to work closely with National Prison Radio, a free radio service broadcasting directly into prisons and young offender institutions across England and Wales, as well as other organisations supporting literacy development and an enjoyment of reading both in and outside of secure settings. Through the programme’s selected texts, creative writing resources, reading groups and partnerships, Books Unlocked emphasises and strengthens the four main elements of literacy: reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Books Unlocked in 2014/15

We increased the number of prisoners and young offenders we worked with in 2014/15, as well as the number of Man Booker Prize-shortlisted titles available. This includes working with Quick Reads, a charity which works to break down the barriers to reading, by offering Roddy Doyle's Dead Man Talking alongside the main programme. Read news story

"It's easy to see why Pigeon English was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011. I feel proud to have had the chance to read it and be able to say that I have now read a Man Booker author."

Participant, HMYOI Brinsford

We continued to collaborate with a variety of organisations dedicated to improving access to literature. The featured books were serialised and author interviews broadcast, enabling us to share the enjoyment of high-quality texts with a greater number of prisoners and young offenders. Books Unlocked gave participants the chance to respond to texts creatively in a writing journal, thus supporting them in improving literacy skills and becoming avid readers for life. Authors and editors of the featured Man Booker Prize-shortlisted titles also visited prisons throughout the year Read news story












Project delivery in 2013/14

In 2013/14, we continued to work with prisons across England and Wales. Participants could choose to read Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English, as offered in the pilot project, and a further three Man Booker Prize-shortlisted titles titles: Snowdrops by AD Miller, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt and The Long Song by Andrea Levy. The project was launched in November 2013 with a visit by AD Miller to HMP Wandsworth. Read news story

An interview with Patrick deWitt was also featured in Not Shut Up, a magazine of arts and writing from secure settings. Each Books Unlocked participant received a reading and creative writing journal with tips from Man Booker Prize-shortlisted authors, in which they could record their responses and pursue their creative writing.

"I now use the reading journal to note all that I read, so I can remember authors I like. The writing journal gave me some good starting points."

Participant, HMP Low Newton

Pilot phase 2012

Pigeon English was used as the text for the 2012 Books Unlocked pilot and Stephen Kelman launched the project with visits to HMP Brixton and HMP Lewes. Read news story

For many participants this was their first exposure to high-quality literature and for a significant minority this was the first book that they had read from start to finish. The pilot was a huge success, with prisoners giving positive feedback about the discussions and time that they had spent in their groups.

For more information please email enquiries to:

Books Unlocked programme delivery:

Partnerships, policy and media:

Watch video

Author Stephen Kelman was filmed talking to prisoners in about his book, Pigeon English.

Watch video

The National Literacy Trust is a registered charity no. 1116260 and a company limited by guarantee no. 5836486 registered in England and Wales and a registered charity in Scotland no. SC042944.
Registered address: 68 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1RL.