The Reading Revolution is growing in Belgium – just recently, The Reader Organisation headed over to Antwerp to run a three-day Read to Lead course in Antwerp. Our three TRO Apprentices also flew over to take part in the shared reading adventure, with one of our Wirral Apprentices, Eamee Boden, helping lead the course.
Here’s Eamee’s perspective on the big Belgian trip, the first in a series from our Apprentices:
Sitting on the train heading back to Amsterdam, I’m staring out the window looking at the landscape just past me by. Whilst I’m doing this my mind is casting back to the past three days on the Read to Lead course that Casi, Patrick and I led in Antwerp and meeting all the other lovely participants. The title for this post came from a lady who attended the course. She said that what we do with our literary learning is like when you put a small stone in a river and it travels far…
Day 1: live reading.
After all the trainees had come through the door the day was started-off with everyone introducing themselves and saying a little bit about what they do, and we soon learnt that we had a real mixture of people from different backgrounds. We had people from education and public library services, to speech language therapists, and even a man who was a children’s magazine journalist. But what struck me was that all twelve trainees all wanted to know one thing: how The Reader Organisation works, how to run their own reading groups. Casi and Patrick asked everyone where they had heard about this training course. The replies were: in the local paper (we had our own section) and the on the local radio, ‘radio 2 de grootste familie’ (the biggest family).
Casi started speaking about great literature and how we use it in shared reading sessions, and one of the things she said really stuck in my mind: that everyone has ‘a right to discover books and literature’. I’m learning that too, that literature is a great way of connecting with different people, and discovering that you are alike. Reading is just like going on completely different journey: it takes you some place new and once it’s finished you come out the other side changed in some way.
That day we took part in a shared reading session of a story called ‘Two Words’ by Isabel Allenda, and a poem called 7301 by U A Fanthorpe. Over the day, we learnt that stopping for pauses and asking questions during the reading of a story is good, because it gives you time to take-in what is being read and think about how it is making you feel. Also, that by reading the same thing but using our voices to make it different each time, you can change the meaning of a text completely. By the end of the day everyone had got more confident at reading aloud and I got a sense that the group, including me myself, felt that being a ‘reading practitioner’ really meant something to them. And this was just day one!
Day 2: live connections
When we arrived at the venue, Casi, Patrick and I set up both rooms for the next part of this course. I set up the room which was brightly coloured with all sorts of wall art; it gave me inspiration with what we could do for Calderstones. I liked the fact it is original and the whole room was really colourful.
In the course information booklets, there was a very heart-warming story about a lady called Molly. A lady who is a recovering alcoholic but still found the shared reading group welcoming and in time began to have a love of poetry. We read this story with the course participants at the beginning of the day to give a clearer understanding about how the reading groups help such people from different walks of life. Whilst reading this I felt that the group gained a better understanding about what we were all about.
During that day we had a look at the research report TRO published with the University of Liverpool and Liverpool PCT: ‘An investigation into the therapeutic benefits of reading in relation to depression and well-being’. Reading this, we found how group members work together to get meaning from a text. I liked the quote, ‘being able to tune-into what the writer is saying is becoming a sophisticated reader’. For the rest of the afternoon the trainee practitioners were split into two groups. I was with Patrick and we read a poem called ‘Domestic Peace’ by Anne Bronte. I thought it was beautiful and everyone in the group liked it too. As the day grew wiser, so did everybody’s minds of working with The Reader in Antwerp. The second day was tiring but thoroughly worth-while.
In the evening it was time to go out and explore more of Belgium. The excitement of getting the bikes and being a local for the evening really got me going, but the weather was starting to go miserable and by the time we were ready to go out it had started to thunder and lightning. So after a change of plan we walked to a museum called ‘Museum aan de stroom’. When we reached the top, it’s like being in the sky and where you see for miles around. Absolutely beautiful.
We sat in a lovely restaurant: I had veal and spaghetti and Casi and Patrick had salmon.
Day 3: live experience
The last day before we go home. We started the day off with questions and answers: during the week Casi had come up with a folder that the trainee practitioners could put their questions in, and in the evening Patrick and Casi would have a discussion on how to answer certain questions. It was good for me to see as it cleared up any questions that I had. There was one question I answered and I explained to the group, which was how I first found The Reader Organisation, and how my whole attitude about it has changed. At first, I would just think ‘what am I even doing here, I actually don’t know what we do’, but over the course of a year and half I’ve grown to know and be fond of what we do as an organisation. Today I’m reading literature I thought I would never read and have actually begun to love and understand the reading. I thought that telling the group this extra information would help them understand that it’s okay not to get something straight away, but over time it will come together and everything will just fall into place. By the end of this session everyone seemed very reassured and felt better together.
Today was about experiencing first-hand what it would be like to be a shared reading practitioner, by taking it in turns to read a poem to the group and ask questions. This was something I really did enjoy and I felt that I could take part as a group member. After everyone had the chance to facilitate a poem of their choice, Patrick and Casi would then take everyone individually to give helpful feedback. Towards the end of this day everybody mentioned how the course had basically helped them throughout these three days: knowing that they will be running their own reading groups with the lending hand of The Reader, they think they will be fantastic facilitators.
Going home was a relief: with it being the first time I’ve been abroad I was glad when I could say ‘I’m going home today’. I generally missed a lot of people. And realising that I do certain things the same every week it has made me appreciate when I do go to my work that I actually love my work.