Get into Reading Footsoldier Dies and Goes to Heaven

Mary Weston manages the Merseycare Reads Project, teaches in Continuing Education, works as a counsellor, runs open house for asylum seekers, failing relatives and homeless teenagers, exercises a bordercollie, stage mothers, sings mezzo-soprano and writes fiction.

Earlier this week Katie Peters described some of her experiences working for for Get Into Reading at the Merseycare NHS Trust. In this post her co-worker Mary Weston highlights the difficulties of persuading healthcare practitioners to consider reading projects as part of their care packages:

One moment I was in the thick of it – Rockets bursting in the skies, heavy mortar fire shaking the earth. To the right of me, Captain O’Connor and Sgt Purcell were scrambling into no man’s land for yet another assault on the high ground of Whetstone Lane. Further to the south, I knew Lt. Williams was single-handedly holding the bridgehead at New Ferry. Nasty show that.

My life flashed before my eyes. It seemed I was travelling weightlessly toward a white light…

I found myself in a landscape that seemed lit from within. Angelic beings came forward to meet me…

Merseycare NHS Trust have commissioned a Reader-in-Residence project: I think this must be the first serious investment in the Get Into Reading model of literature for health in the country, which is not to discount all the support Birkenhead and Wallasey PCT have given us over the years. Book blogger dovegreyreader has mentioned the difficulty of convincing health service managers to look at projects like this. She says: ‘I have an as yet unevaluated theory that we could halve the counselling budget in General Practice if we could … establish some all-inclusive Reading Groups on Prescription in surgeries.’

The Trust run a range of services in the Liverpool and Sefton areas: adult mental health, secure services, and older peoples’ services, as well as drugs, alcohol, and services for people with learning disabilities. I don’t know how many sites they run – it’s over 50, I think, including acute psychiatric wards at Stoddart House, Broadoak and Windsor House; adult mental health day centres like South Drive, Crown Street and Unicorn Road. In addition to Ashworth, there’s the medium-secure Scott Clinic, and the Low Secure Unit at Rathbone.

There’s no way that my job-share colleague could have known where to begin, which is where the angelic beings come in. Lindsey Dyer is the one who made it all possible, finding the funding and planning the project with a keen strategic eye, targeting potential reading group sites across the different directorates and areas. Not only does this mean that the benefits of reading groups are spread fairly, it gives us a chance to test the model with the different client groups, developing our expertise in working with people whose functioning is more impaired than the average Get Into Reading client. She is absolutely committed to the project and has been able to open (or kick down) doors that ordinarily would have been closed to us.

Then there’s Judith Mawer. Her job takes her peripatetically all over the Trust’s premises, supporting staff and encouraging best practice. Her inside knowledge has been invaluable, and the good will that she has with frontline workers has given the project a credibility it could never have had on our own. With her experience of doing English Literature on the University’s Continuing Education programme, she comes from the same stable as we do, speaks the same language.

Between them, Lindsey and Judith have managed to interest more than 50 staff members in volunteering as reading group facilitators or assistants. This is the way the programme will roll out and ‘embed’ itself. The Brigadier has just finished a series of Induction Sessions, which seems to have fired them all with enthusiasm. And Merseycare seems to have a tradition of leading from the front: the Chief Executive and the Medical Director, have committed themselves to leading weekly groups.

Is this all really happening? Or will I wake up and find myself in a Casualty Clearing Station on a morphine drip?

‘Captain Sensible’

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by Mary Weston

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