Sarah Turvey

Sarah Turvey OBE is the co-founder and director of Prison Reading Groups

My path to university in the early 1970s was smooth. I came from a very comfortable middle class family and the unquestioned expectation was that I would go. The school where I did my A Levels produced good academic results and understood the application process. I loved literature so I read English, worked hard and did well.

It wasn’t til I started teaching in a post-1992 university that I began to understand first-hand the power and possibilities of university. My students were ethnically diverse, many were the first in their family to go into higher education and almost all of them did long hours of paid work alongside their studies.

For most of them the decision to go to university was driven by the desire for a qualification that would open doors. But what delighted me most was their discovery that university could also be the place where you build confidence, autonomy, and a sense of self-worth. A place where your ideas matter enough to be explored and tested out.

One of my research interests was in reading groups and together with a colleague I set up a university-sponsored project called Prison Reading Groups (PRG) to start, fund and support informal reading groups for prisoners. That was 25 years ago and PRG is still going strong, now part of the charity Give a Book and running more than 80 groups nationwide.

I am still involved and the rewards for me are close to those of my teaching career. Helping people discover the pleasures and challenges of books, helping them find a voice, is an exhilarating privilege.