Queen’s Birthday Honours: Lancing founder of children’s Summer Reading Challenge awarded MBE

Anne Sarrag has been nominated for a MBE SUS-190806-113928001
Anne Sarrag has been nominated for a MBE SUS-190806-113928001

A Lancing woman who has dedicated 30 years of her life to bringing books to children and families has been nominated for a MBE.

Anne Sarrag, 55, has been included in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List for her services to improving access to reading in the UK.

With a career spanning three decades, Anne is perhaps best known for her work as the co-founder of LaunchPad, a charity that worked to promote library services to children and families. 

Through LaunchPad, Anne launched the Summer Reading Challenge to encourage four to eleven-year-olds to read over the summer holidays - a scheme now adopted by 96 per cent of libraries in the UK.

The nomination came out of the blue, she said, but was a great honour.

“It was a bit of a shock, but I feel very privileged and very flattered,” she said.

“You are nominated by your peer group or the community you work with, so that feels very special.

“If it gives me the opportunity to promote and talk about the Summer Reading Challenge then that’s great. Although the people that deliver the challenge are the 200 reading challenge coordinators throughout the UK. The ones who actively gather the materials and plan the strategy and think about how to promote it. It wasn’t just me, I’m just a catalyst.”

Anne launched the Summer Reading Challenge in 1999, the same year as LaunchPad was founded.

She said many children would go away over the summer holidays and not have access to reading materials, returning to school having lost ground and confidence in their education.

It placed extra stress on teachers and pupils, she said, and created a void for a scheme such as the Summer Reading Challenge to fill.

Supported by libraries, children borrow and read books over the summer holidays, tracking their progress and earning stickers and incentives as they go along.

It is the Summer Reading Challenge that she described as her proudest achievement, as it gathered support and grew from one a one-off event into something that people valued and could be delivered consistently and to a high standard.

The scheme saw 83,000 children sign up to libraries last year alone, as well as over 6,700 children, and many thousands more adults, volunteering at libraries.

Despite well-documented cuts to library budgets as a result of Government funding reductions, Anne said libraries are things that should be, and generally are, protected as much as possible.

“Government cuts have been savage, but libraries are always one of the things people try and ring fence,” she said.

“There’s a lot of passion around trying to maintain the services. It would be a terrible loss if we lost libraries.

“Libraries shout ‘equality’ - it doesn’t matter that your background, libraries are free and for everyone. 

“There’s an awful worry that we will miss them when they are gone, but we are not always aware of how much they do while we have them.”

She paid tribute to West Sussex’s library provision, describing it as one of the best services in the UK.

Anne started out on her career ‘almost by accident’, taking on a part-time role with the Book Bus, promoting reading for pleasure around London, while she completed a psychology degree at Birkbeck University.

From there, she held various roles with children’s publishers, in between taking the Book Bus, which she now owns, around the UK on road shows to coincide with Children’s Book Week.

LaunchPad and the first Summer Reading Challenge were launched in 1999 and, four years later, the projects merged with several other groups to form the Reading Agency, a charity which brings the power of books and reading to people of all ages.

Anne works there today as head of children’s reading, where she continues to spearhead the Summer Reading Challenge.