Earlier this month we were delighted to welcome Kate Middleton (no, not that one!) back to our Liverpool HQ. Kate founded and leads an exciting Shared Reading project called The Reading Revolution in New Zealand.
Kate Middleton came across The Reader while working as a librarian and studying for a Masters degree in Information Studies in Auckland, New Zealand.
The country has a policy of ‘ageing in place’ where older people are encouraged and assisted to remain in their own homes. It’s designed to enhance a sense of independence and self-reliance but the reality is that it can leave many older people feeling socially isolated. As part of her Masters, Kate was researching Age Concern to explore how libraries might help to integrate people back into communities when she came across The Reader.
“People feel confident and safe in library spaces – it felt like the perfect place to do it. But getting the means together to fund a trip to The Reader felt like a pipe dream,” says Kate during her now-second trip to The Reader’s Liverpool headquarters in the UK. “Then eventually, in 2015, my family chipped in and made it happen.
“I really didn’t know what to expect. I was like a little squirrel gathering nuts because I knew it would be a long time before I would come back here. Because it was just me, there was a pressure to take as much as I could home and do the best that I could.”
She said The Reading Revolution, as the project’s now called, was quite hard to get off the ground in New Zealand, not just because she was a one-woman-band, but because “the culture is quite different – you go home and stay home, there’s no local pub culture or anything”.
“Shared Reading was pretty natural to me – but it was all the other things that go around setting something up that I’ve had to learn along the way.”
In 2017, The Reader sent one of its staff, Megg, halfway across the world to train more Reader Leaders to support Kate’s mission – and she’s now self-funded 25 hours’ work on this every week, mainly through lottery grants.
The Reading Revolution team reads everywhere from drug and alcohol support spaces to centres that work with people with disabilities. She also runs monthly coffee groups for “everyone together on an equal basis” – where they engage in Shared Reading, get peer support and have workshops on different aspects of the role.
And she’s not stopping there.
Thanks to the New Zealand Lottery Minister’s discretionary fund, Kate is accompanied on her second trip to the UK by Danny Prasad, a colleague she roped into her mission, who currently reads with a drug and alcohol group.
Both are here for a Train the Trainer course so they can start to build an even bigger movement of Reader Leaders on the other side of the world.
“There are young men, in their 20s to 30s, with really varying degrees of literacy,” Danny explains of the group he leads. “The ‘wow moments’ are when these men accidentally stumble into vulnerability and stuff comes up for them that doesn’t come up very often – when they share very moving, sometimes painful memories.
“The group is silent for a second – even the staff – and then others come in to give space to those who wouldn’t otherwise have space for that.”
“I was working in women’s prisons for a year and had been through New Zealand writers, new and old work when I came across a fairy story to bring to the group,” Kate says.
“I only had one person that day and she just closed her eyes – she was so blissful – and eventually said ‘I really feel like I’ve been somewhere else’. Fairy stories have very descriptive, beautiful, colourful language – this became a sweet spot.
“I’d built up trust and connection, they were able to relax with me and that felt special to me as a Reader Leader. It didn’t seem like an obvious choice.”
Ahead of their next training date in November, 17 people are currently visiting local Shared Reading groups and going through the induction process. The Reading Revolution will also be running a Read to Lead course on the South Island through a professional partnership with Nelson Libraries next year. That means both internal and external volunteers getting skilled up to deliver Read to Lead.
“We’d just like to say thank you to Clare and Megg at The Reader who have gone above and beyond to welcome us and celebrate what we’ve been doing. We’re excited about taking things to next level and that The Reader is supporting us to do that – it’s really giving us everything we need.”
Find out more about The Reading Revolution New Zealand.