University of the West of Scotland (UWS) students, staff and members of the public enjoyed an evening with award-winning Scottish author, Gail Honeyman, on Thursday 22 November to celebrate the launch of the University’s new Big Read initiative.

Hosted at the UWS Paisley campus, attendees had the opportunity to take part in a question and answer session with the author and listen to her perform a reading of her acclaimed debut-novel, ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’.

The University’s Big Read programme, which aims to maximise the unifying power of reading to help new students settle into university life, saw around 500 new and direct entry students from the University’s School of Business & Enterprise given a special copy of the book as they embarked on their studies, which included a letter from the author and Professor Craig Mahoney, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of UWS.

The idea behind the initiative is to bring people together through novels, giving new students something in common to talk about from day one and helping them to feel more welcome in their new environment.

Reflecting on the evening and meeting Gail Honeyman, UWS BA Business Level 7 student, Lydia Zimunya said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the Big Read event and listening to the author answer our questions and perform her reading. I’m hugely supportive of the initiative, which has already brought students closer together and given us something relatable to talk about. It can often be daunting starting university, so having some common ground with our peers in the form of a good book from the get-go is a really great idea.”

Dr Claire Carney, Associate Vice-Principal Education UWS, headed up the project, she said: “Student wellbeing is of primary concern here at UWS and this initiative aims to support students transitioning to university by providing them with something to talk about and bond over from day one.

“In choosing our ‘Big Read’ book, alongside our partners at Kingston, and Wolverhampton universities, we explored a range of different novels before settling on this one as it tackles important issues that face all students of today and it focuses on the inspirational and transformational power of small acts of kindness.”

The project by UWS, in partnership with Kingston University, received funding from Scottish Library and Information Council’s Innovation and Development Fund. UWS has worked collaboratively with Scottish Book Trust, Renfrewshire Council Libraries and East Renfrewshire Libraries. In addition, the Students Association University of the West of Scotland (SAUWS) has also got behind the initiative.

Jeanette Castle, Library Services Manager at UWS Paisley said: “We recognise the role academic libraries play in supporting learning, teaching and research needs and we strongly believe that libraries can play more of a role in supporting the wellbeing and leisure needs of our students and staff. By forming partnerships with libraries in the surrounding local area, we are hoping to forge new connections and explore how libraries across the sector can support students through this shared reading project.

“Our aim is to see our students’ confidence and resilience grow thanks to this community of support that has been created through reading.”

Main Photo: (Left-Right) Jeanette Castle, Claire Carney, Gail Honeyman, Craig Mahoney and Richard Jefferies at the Big Reading Event to celebrate Book Week Scotland