Project worker Alexis McNay provides us with today’s update from his group, St James’ ‘Book at Breakfast’.
Great news from the St James group this week where TWO new ladies have joined! I’ve always thought of the St James group as a bit of a flagship; that sounds like a fine piece of self-aggrandizement (ha ha, ‘Admiral Al’!) – no, what I mean is that I think of the St James’ group as embodying that spirit with which I imagine the pioneers of Get into Reading setting out into the community with books under their arms all those years ago – ‘bringing Books to Life’. All those years? Indeed, St James was not only the first, but has been going so long that nobody quite remembers when it started. Some accounts have it as far back as 2001, though no-one can quite believe it’s been that long. It’s no spring chicken, let’s say.
It’s always been a group with a strong, loyal core rather than high attendance. Quality not size, I like to think. The three ladies who have made up the group recently have all been coming for over three years. And until quite recently I’d always thought of this in healthy, positive terms; the low numbers remarkable still given the area, the same ladies coming week on week, year on year as a sign of their belief in and valuing of shared reading – the glass half full. I’d neglected to see things from the other side of the table, the side with the money, where the figures, devoid of the context of individual experience, might represent a low leveling out.
As part of a recruitment drive, the St James group was re-launched, not with champagne, but with crumpets and English muffins, as ‘Book at Breakfast’ last Autumn. I’ve done some footwork in the North Birkenhead area; not enough, yet, but, you know, as time allows, putting posters up, distributing flyers, talking to adult learning groups at the St James Centre, speaking – Greek, it seems, usually – to people on the street about the pleasure of shared reading. Some near misses, but a blank. Funny that our two new ladies should fall into our laps while we were reading. One had popped into the library to use the photocopier – and this only because the one she usually uses at the Post Office was kaput. A nice bit of deus ex machina. It turns out she’s the next-door neighbour – of some thirty years – of one of our group. We asked her to give it a go and she’s been coming since, has settled in very comfortably and loves it. The second lady we had met and talked to when she came into the library with her toddler. She expressed an interest in joining, but there are no crèche facilities available. We have got round this with the help of volunteer Nikki Power (cool name) who looked after the little girl in the library while her mum joined us to read. Probably not quite what Nikki thought she’d be getting into, but she seemed quite happy, if a little breathless, when she checked in on one of her laps of the library. Thanks for your help, Nikki, you did a fantastic job. Her mum really enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to read, relax and talk.
It was cheering, then, to look round at a group invigorated, reminded of possibilities, and we had a really enjoyable session reading Mrs. Warren’s Profession by GB Shaw, which manages a fine balance between the comical and the poignant and provided occasion for both laughter and serious discussion.