The Kingston University Big Read

Kingston University has a really strong sense of community and since 2015/16 we have been building this through the development of our award-winning Kingston University Big Read.

First offered in 2015, the Big Read aims to make those coming to the university feel welcome before they arrive, and create links between them and the staff and students already here.

On meeting their offer, each new student (undergraduate and postgraduate) will receive a free copy of that year's special edition Kingston University Big Read title. Current students and staff will be invited to help themselves to a free copy from one of the many locations across each of the University's five campuses - and they will be available by the end of June, so they can be taken away on holiday and discussed with wider family and friends.

The scheme is based on similar projects in the US which have shown that creating a community through shared reading before students arrive helps them feel welcome, settle in quickly - and adjust to their new life as a student. Whereas a few universities in the UK have experimented with reading schemes linked to specific types of books (e.g. prize winners) within particular faculties, Kingston is the first UK university to establish a scheme on such a wide scale, and to involve both the full university as well as the local community.

Colleagues from Kingston University attending the prestigious Times Higher Education's Annual awards where the project secured 'Widening Participation/Outreach of the Year' in November 2017
How the Big Read developed

How the Big Read developed

The potential relevance of the project was explored through questionnairing first year students in 2015 and having had a very positive response, we trialled the scheme for those joining the university in autumn 2015. Students loved it, and talked of their excitement at receiving a ‘gift' from their university - as well as feeling ‘expected' and ‘welcomed'. One of the most interesting findings however was the impact the project had within Kingston University staff; with many more eager to participate than had originally been anticipated. The title chosen for the first Kingston University Big Read was Nick Hornby's About a Boy.

In 2016, the process for choosing the book became much more complex - the starting point being the suggestions made by staff and students. All are carefully analysed according to a number of criteria considered important for a book all would read and the information is loaded into a database so that comparisons could be made. The result is an algorithm, which produces a shortlist of six titles which a panel of volunteers spend months reading and deliberating over before coming to their final decision of which title will be the chosen Kingston University Big Read. 2016's winning title was The Humans by Matt Haig, 2017's was Kit de Waal's My Name is Leon and the 2018 choice was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

In 2016/17 we shared our Big Read with Edinburgh Napier, to explore how pre-arrival shared-reading worked across two universities committed to widening participation. In 2017/18 we worked with Wolverhampton University and in 2018/19 with Wolverhampton, Edge Hill University and the University of the West of Scotland.

The Big Read 2020

The shortlisted books for this year's Big Read have been selected. With genres ranging from politics and biography to fantasy and historical fiction, the six shortlisted titles for 2020 were picked from over 130 nominated books submitted by students and staff.

The Big Read 2020

Upcoming Big Read events

Postgraduate Open Evening

Postgraduate Open Evening

Wednesday 1 July 2020

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Big Read 2019 winner

When Harold Fry receives a letter from former colleague, Queenie, informing him she is dying it changes everything. Harold leaves his house in Kingsbridge to post a letter but changes his mind to walk to Queenie's hospice in Berwick – nearly 600 miles away – with no phone or walking gear. Playwright and author Rachel Joyce takes the reader on a rollercoaster road journey with Harold who is determined to reach Queenie before she dies. This unsentimental story peels back the painful layers of Harold's marriage, the secret surrounding his son and the friendship with Queenie. Joyce creates an emotionally gripping tale featuring an unforgettable character whose journey of self-discovery will stay with you long after you finish this charming debut.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce


We work with a number of partners in bringing you the Kingston University Big Read. These include, but are not limited to: publishers, authors, Kingston Borough, and the Higher Education sector. Last year we worked with Wolverhampton University, Edge Hill University and The University of Western Scotland, all institutions committed to widening participation. If you would like to know more, or consider becoming a partner too, please contact us at

Higher Education sector

U3A (University of the Third Age)

U3A is a nation-wide movement for those no longer in full time employment. It provides educational, creative and leisure opportunities in a friendly environment with the teachers learning and the learners teaching. We're very happy to have Kingston's own U3A members joining us in reading our book and attending the related events that surround it.


Penguin Books: Big Read 2017 Partner

Part of Penguin Random House, one of the big five publishers, this was the second year that Penguin Books partnered with the Big Read to provide a wonderful bespoke edition for us all to enjoy.

Canongate: Big Read 2016 Partner

Edinburgh-based Canongate is one of the most dynamic publishing houses in England, publishing the varied and wonderful works of a whole host of prolific authors whilst changing the way publishing is done. We were proud to have both Canongate and Matt Haig as our partners for 2016.

The Pigeonhole

In 2016 Kingston University teamed up with global book club and digital reading platform, The Pigeonhole, to digitally serialise the year's Kingston University Big Read choice, Matt Haig's The Humans.

The partnership with The Pigeonhole allowed a further 10,000 members of staff and existing students to join the scheme and receive a free digital version of the book via app and web-reader which they used to interact with each other before and after arriving at the University.

Local community

Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames

Working closely with our local community, the Big Read joined forces with the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames, specifically working closely with local libraries in the area.

Joel Community Services

Working to put the home back into homelessness, Joel Community Services is a local night shelter community based on mutual respect, support and co-operation. In 2016 the Big Read gave a number of our special edition copies of The Humans available to guests and volunteers at Joel Community Services. Author, Matt Haig was keen to join them for a meal and discuss everything from the book and his work as an author to the guests themselves and the broader picture of homelessness in the UK in 2016.

Contact us

If you would like more information regarding the Kingston University Big Read, to suggest a title, or to volunteer to be part of an upcoming selection committee, please contact us at:

Alternatively for press information, please contact the Kingston University Communications team.