2014 is fast drawing to a close, and what a year it’s been for us here at The Reader Organisation. Looking back it’s almost hard to believe how much we’ve crammed into the space of twelve months. It’s been a time defined by growth and development, with new shared reading and volunteering projects around the UK, events for all ages and interests with a packed programme at Calderstones Mansion House all year around, a new anthology to add to our bookshelf and our number of staff has surpassed 100.
Before the bells of the New Year ring, we’ve got time to look back on the year that has been…and there’s been so much happening that we’ve had to split it into two parts.
At the start of 2014 we announced Better with a Book, our fifth annual National Conference, which explored the connections between reading great literature, improved mental health and the reduction of social isolation. The British Library Conference Centre was vibrant with interested delegates, all of whom came together for a day focused on the impacts of shared reading. Guest speakers included Lord Melvyn Bragg, who spoke about the effects of reading on his own life and that of his mother, who was diagnosed with dementia; Baroness Estelle Morris, and Dr Alice Sullivan of the Instiute of Education. Most memorable were the personal stories of our Readers, who shared their experiences of how reading has changed their life.
Calderstones Mansion House – the future International Centre for Reading – came to life with a series of special events throughout the year. From Half-Term Hijinks and an Easter Extravaganza for children and the family to historical tours of the Mansion and an authentic 1940s-style Tea Dance, there has been tons for the community to enjoy. We were delighted to welcome back Shakespeare’s Globe for highly praised performances of Much Ado About Nothing, and the Secret Garden opened up to amazed audiences as we held our first Children’s Literature Festival, complete with storytelling, competitions and giant games of Quidditch.
The London Penny Readings returned to the Southbank Centre as part of London Literature Festival, and back in Liverpool the ever popular festive reading and entertainment extravaganza the Penny Readings sold out in record time.
2014 has brought four new issues of The Reader, with contributions from names including Erwin James, Alan Howarth, Margaret Drabble, David Constantine, Maxine Peake, Miriam Gamble and Michael Schmidt.
To mark the centenary of the start of the First World War, co-editor of The Reader and Godfather of The Reader Organisation Brian Nellist compiled a new poetry anthology, On Active Service: 1914-1918, remembering the extraordinary experiences of ordinary people commemorated in their own words.
Media and special appearances
Shared reading has been making headlines again, with the positive effects of reading aloud and the pioneering research of Centre of Research for Reading, Society and Literature (CRILS) being mentioned in The Telegraph and The Independent.
The happenings at Calderstones and the City of Readers project received lots of local press, and reading aloud came to the airwaves as our groups were featured in two programmes on BBC Radio 4. In his series exploring the English language, Stephen Fry looked at the art of reading aloud – “a life-changing business” – featuring input from our some of our group members, who attested to this statement. Calderstones Mansion House also featured in Open Book, being showcased as a ‘reading oasis’ for the community.
Our social media channels are continuing to get people talking about great literature – we have over 8,400 followers on Twitter – with our regional Twitter accounts sparking lots of interest too – and more than 1,700 likes on Facebook.
And over the summer, The Reader South West got a visit from a very special guest at one of our regular groups. Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall enjoyed some shared reading with our group members at Exeter Library while on tour in the area, as well as finding out about our work across the region.
Part 2 of TRO’s Review of 2014 is coming tomorrow.