A New Chapter – Liverpool Hope University and The Reader Organisation

On 3rd October The Reader Organisation started what is sure to be a thrilling and innovative relationship with Liverpool Hope University.

Charlotte Weber and I are now Readers-in-Residence, working closely with the Faculty of Education in creating a vibrant atmosphere revolving around reading across campus. Over the year we will be delivering weekly reading groups to first year students from the Faculty, sparking a level of enthusiasm towards the value of reading that will stay with them throughout their careers in education and their lives as a whole.

The project may still be in its embryonic stages but we are already brimming with ideas about how we can promote shared reading.

In partnership with the Faculty of Education we are setting up a Read Aloud Society as part of students’ course enrichment, we have already held a reading group in the Sheppard-Worlock Library, arranged for the library to stock The Reader Organisation’s publications, presented our vision to over 500 students across two lectures (of course, we finished with a poem!) and we are making plans for a significant part of Our Read 2012 to be based at Hope, with students playing a vital role in the delivery of one of The Reader Organisation’s biggest and most exciting projects.

The campus is a brilliant place to be, there are so many people here we can inspire to become social and active readers who go on to deliver a Reading Revolution to even more people. There is the added bonus of both Charlotte and I being fans of Paradise Lost working in the EDEN Building… which has a garden… with a bench seating two children reading Tarzan. The words and drawings are actually engraved onto the book!

Liverpool Hope University takes a holistic approach to student development and this is something we are looking to be a major part of. Our experience of Get Into Reading proves sitting down with other people and reading a good poem, novel or short story can have an amazing impact on the individual and a community. After students and staff have experienced the wonderful effects of shared reading aloud, we hope they can make the university an even more dynamic place to study and work.

The benefits of our presence should not only be felt within Hope, we would like students to engage with schools, community centres and care homes in bringing enjoyable shared reading experiences to as many people as possible. It will be rewarding for us as an organisation if we extend students’ vocational activity surrounding the university, as we use reading as the means to a harmonious relationship between students and the local community.

This is an outstanding opportunity for Liverpool Hope University and its students to set themselves apart from others, whilst The Reader Organisation engages with hundreds of Education students who will one day go on to play a huge role in the development of thousands of youngsters. It is a privilege for us to be able to spread our message to so many people, and to ensure that the Reading Revolution continues to grow.

A Dave's eye view of the book!

Reading With Children – Benefits on a Grand Scale

Just in case you haven’t noticed, plenty of The Reader staff ran the 5K in Liverpool the weekend before last, raising money to support our work reading with looked after children. We were recently given compelling evidence by Young Person’s Project Worker, Anna Fleming, of how this work helps young people in care massively. Of course, this is not the only example of such work and knowing what the money raised was going towards was a great motivation for the unfit members of the team whilst training and on race day itself. (Not naming any names, not out of politeness, but it would be quicker to name the people in shape).

A mixture of adrenaline, fear, excitement, dread and distraction.

A July 2010 report from The University of York named ‘Estimating the life-time cost of NEET: 16-18 year olds not in Education, Employment or Training’ indicated that fairly modest investment in ‘youth support projects’ can save massive amounts of public money in the long run.

As the title suggests, the report focuses on 16-18 year olds, but includes an alarming statistic with regards to children in care:

In 2008 only 14 per cent of looked after children obtained 5 A*-C grades at GCSE compared to 65 per cent of all children.

Roughly speaking that’s just under a fifth of looked after children doing as well as the national average in their examinations, a series of results that have a massive impact on an individual’s future. Hopefully since 2008 this gap in the figures has narrowed somewhat, but it is discomforting if not surprising, that so many people should be held back by a factor as arbitrary as their domestic/familial situation in the 21st century. The Reader Organisation’s one-to-one work with looked after children aims to remove these obstacles, giving children the chance to read exciting and enjoyable material in a relaxed environment outside of school.

One of the nation’s biggest problems at the moment is unemployment, especially for young people. Those leaving care and/or and school without the best grades or a college/university place are likely to struggle. The University of York looked at how much NEETs were likely to cost the taxpayer over their lifetimes. The least conservative estimates arrived at a public finance cost of £32 billion and resource costs of £76 billion – similar to the budget of a small/medium government department at the time.

In the Executive Summary of the report, the research team said that cuts in youth support projects could have damaging effects financially and for society as a whole as costs covering unemployment and criminal justice would increase massively. One case study showed that failure to prevent a young offender drifting into repeat offending can cost £2 million, whilst a modest investment of £7,000 can prevent this.

The research findings above are yet another reason to thank all of those who sponsored our 5k run. Not only are you helping to provide positive experiences for young people, but you are helping to protect them from falling into the 86% and establishing something closer to the equal footing in life these people deserve.

You can still sponsor our runners retrospectively by clicking here.

A Fitness Diary from Wembley Stadium

You know you’re taking the 5k run seriously when even on arguably the best day of your life, and within an hour of a feeling of pure elation, you find yourself doing a spot of training for the run raising money to support our excellent work reading with looked-after children.

On Saturday I watched the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at the iconic Wembley Stadium, seeing Wigan Warriors defeat Leeds Rhinos 28-18 in a very tense match that did little to help my blood pressure. On the train down to London I was reading This Sporting Life by David Storey, a novel set in the days when professionalism was fairly new to the sport, and Arthur Machin has to juggle managing his personal life with the physical demands and politics of rugby league in a working class town. It was a brilliant little setup for the match on Saturday. (This is a Reader blog post, I had to cram a reference to literature in somehow!)

When you’re training for a run there are a few important things to remember:

1. Warm Up 

Supposedly the best way to do this is by having a few minutes of light exercise. Instead, I jumped up and down like a little kid who had eaten too many sweets whenever Wigan scored, best exhibited when Tommy Leuluai scored a clinching try in the final minutes and the full-time hooter sounded. I did some chest exercises, mainly by roaring ‘advice’ at the referee. A final aerobic workout consisted of dancing to Depeche Mode’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ during post match celebrations in the stands.

2. Do Some Stretches and Wear the Right Gear.

T-shirt, shorts, running shoes etc. Stretch your calves, quads, glutes, intercostal muscles and any more I’ve missed out on. I put my shorts and trainers on and did my stretches in a cubicle in Wembley mens’ toilets. Not a sentence I anticipated writing a couple of months ago. Of course, you feel like a bit of a wally walking down the seemingly ridiculous amount of steps at Wembley (another warm up) whilst dressed like someone who should be in the gym, but when the bloke next to you is wearing a red and white checked hat or is dressed like a chicken then everything is relative.

3. Get Running!

So a lap of Wembley commenced and although this is far from a remarkable distance, it remains challenging. Problems being – you’re carrying a bag of various things, you may have to run past dejected Leeds fans whilst wearing opposition colours and there are thousands and thousands of people pouring out of the stadium, making this an assault course. Rather than be put off, I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to practice overtaking and a chance to appreciate the challenges faced by Anna when she narrowly avoided a catastrophic collision with an old lady.

There is something quite brilliant about running around Wembley Stadium as you get to see all sides of the ground and the various people celebrating with big grins on their faces, and jogging past the statue of Bobby Moore whilst filled with glee and adrenaline.

4. Warm Down

A bit of light exercise, such as walking down Wembley Way towards the tube station. Standing on a packed tube is excellent detox as it can help flush out your sweat if the run hasn’t already.

It would be absolutely fantastic if everyone could help give the children we read with a smile as big as the one on my face late on Saturday afternoon. All funds raised will go to this great cause, and you can make a donation by clicking here.

Grab Some Poems to Take Home!

For those who aren’t already proud owners of a copy, you should know that we have our own brilliant poetry anthology – Poems to Take Home. If you are a member of a Get Into Reading group then this is an excellent (and free!) opportunity to take a bit of it home with you. This anthology of poetry is by no means exclusive to GIR members or facilitators, if you’re a lover of poetry then this is right up your street. If you struggle with poetry or just don’t feel at one with it then there is bound to be something within its pages that tickles your fancy.

The works of poetry come from some of the greatest of all time and were chosen by our very own GIR group members. Amongst the popular choices were Wordsworth (‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’); John Masefield (‘Cargoes’); Rilke (‘Evening’); Browning (‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’) Kipling (‘If’) and Henley (‘Invictus’).


Poems can range from the profound (Owen – ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’) or inspirational (Coolidge – ‘New Every Morning’) to the more light-hearted and familiar (Lear – ‘The Owl and the Pussy-Cat’) or romantic (Burns – ‘A Red, Red Rose’). There are so many brilliant poems it is practically impossible to list them all, but some of the greats from the literary/poetic canon help make this a wonderful and diverse anthology.

Once you have your copy you may want to sit down quietly with a cup of tea and a bit of cake (not that we’re condoning unhealthy diets!) and indulge in some fine poetry. You may want to share it with family/friends, after all, poetry is at its best when it is read aloud.

In addition to the poetry, Poems to Take Home contains comments about GIR and the poems themselves from GIR members, facilitators and The Reader staff. Take for example, Kate McDonnell’s response to Coventry Patmore’s ‘The Toys’:

I’ve used this poem on several occasions in Get Into Reading groups when we’ve been reading Marghanita Laski’s novel, Little Boy Lost, and every time I’ve found it impossible to read it aloud without getting a lump in my throat!

or a GIR member’s response to William Henry Davies’ ‘Leisure’ (What is this life, if full of care…’

My life used to be hectic, 100 mph stuff, never taking in the simpler finer things of life – the things we take for granted. A head injury has slowed me down and it has made me take notice and watch and listen and care more. ‘Leisure’ is what I do now.

Poems to Take Home gives an insight into Get Into Reading but the focus lies well and truly with the poetry. One of the great things I have found about this book is that it features works I had not read but was familiar with the poet prior to reading. For example ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is one of my favourite pieces of writing of all time, but I had not read ‘Work without Hope’ by Coleridge, which I found to be an excellent poem. I have also read umpteen D.H. Lawrence novels but had never read ‘Lizard’. As ever, it’s great to discover new material and Poems to Take Home allows you to do just that.

Poems to Take Home can be purchased directly from The Reader Organisation’s website for £6 (it’s free for GIR members, just ask your facilitator), why not check out our book of poems, short stories and extracts from novels – A Little, Aloud while you’re there?

Mind Book of the Year 2011

Mental health charity, Mind, recently announced the shortlist for their 30th annual prize acknowledging the best books published in the year that address mental health issues and help improve the understanding of the subject. The nominees are as follows:

Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me by Bobby Baker
Grace Williams Says it out Loud by Emma Henderson
The Woman who Thought too Much by Joanne Limburg
The Gossamer Thread: My Life as a Psychotherapist by John Marzillier
What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness by Candia McWilliam
Teach us to Sit Still: A Sceptic’s Search for Health and Healing by Tim Parks
Broken Places by Wendy Perriam
This Party’s Got to Stop by Rupert Thomson

The list above features a mix of novels, art and memoirs, with many coming from writers who suffer from mental health difficulties themselves, or have worked with patients as medical staff.

Brief synopses are available on the Mind website, along with plenty of interesting information and advice from the charity about mental health. With this prize in its 30th year it is clear that this is nothing particularly new, but The Reader Organisation has brought mental health and literature together for some time now,  with our involvement with Mersey Care and other organisations, providing reading groups in areas including acute psychiatric wards and alcohol/drugs detox. The books we read with service users tend to be works of great literature/poetry, but do not always relate directly to mental health. For example, Project Worker Eleanor McCann has recently been reading with her group the cult sci-fi favourite The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

The acknowledgment of works that articulate the experience of undergoing mental health problems is highly commendable, and demonstrates that literature can have the power to help people understand something that may be fairly alien to them. Unfortunately mental illness is a topic that is still associated with numerous stereotypes, and hopefully these books can assist in educating people about psychiatric issues and challenging incorrect pre-conceptions about some of these conditions.

Amongst the books are stories (fictional and factual) of ‘life and love in a mental hospital’; ‘the courage of the human spirit in the face of mental illness’; a memoir of  ‘three brothers [who] take their dad’s old pills and tear the house apart in their bid to confront his sudden death, as well as each other.’ You really need to read about all eight of these books (click on the link above), as each one sounds captivating in its own right.

Maybe you’ve read one or more of the shortlisted books, if so, what did you make of it? What books about mental health have you read and appreciated? Have Mind missed something out? Let us know with a comment below.

Also, Jane Davis will be talking on Radio Scotland’s Book Cafe today (listen again here) about the relationship between reading and mental health.

Is Fiction Good for You?

Emeritus Professor at Toronto University, Keith Oatley was on the Today Programme, erm, today, discussing the remedial power of fiction.

Oatley worked in a small research group, examining how fiction might be good for wellbeing. Oatley and his colleagues looked at how the amount of fiction people read was related to levels of empathy and social understanding, concluding that there was a positive correlation between the amount of fiction people read and their social abilities.

Oatley discussed how this contradicted notions of ‘bookworms’ locking themselves away for hours whilst reading and not making any time for friends. In fact, reading has the ability to help people deal with the social world that surrounds them.

Oatley said fiction was comparable to a ‘flight simulator’, because the immersion of the individual into another world and experiencing characters’ emotional and social encounters can help them understand their own lives. In Oatley’s newly published book, Such Stuff as Dreams, he describes how fiction can engage our minds in thoughts not only about those around us, but ourselves.

This offers further support to The Reader Organisation’s ethos and ongoing projects, providing shared reading groups and reading events utilising novels, short stories, poetry and plays, benefiting the wellbeing of those we reach. Our evaluations prove that we are helping people and research from the likes of Prof. Keith Oatley provide further evidence of the intrinsic link between fiction and wellbeing.

Poetry Gardens for Eyeballs Vexed and Tired

The Royal Horticultural Society recently held the Hampton Court Flower Show, featuring a competition for gardens inspired by great works of English poetry.

Barry Chambers’ garden won a Gold Medal and was inspired by ‘On the Sea’ by John Keats. This sonnet was written in 1817 and celebrates the excitement and danger the sea provides. Here is a picture of the winning garden followed by the poem it drew inspiration from:

It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often ’tis in such gentle temper found,
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be moved for days from where it sometime fell.
When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.
Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;
Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody—
Sit ye near some old Cavern’s Mouth and brood,
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired!

The RHS website says the following about the garden and the poem:

This design rejoices in chaos. Like a stormy sea, many of the plants are exuberant and out of control.

A Silver Medal was awarded to Yvonne Mathews for her take on Byron’s ‘Love’s Last Adieu’. The garden was built by former grave-digger Rob Carr and gardeners from Co-Operative Funeralcare and is labelled as a “garden of mourning.”

Here is a verse from ‘Love’s Last Adieu’ and a picture of its corresponding garden:

In vain, with endearments, we soothe the sad heart,
In vain do we vow for an age to be true;
The chance of an hour may command us to part,
Or Death disunite us, in Love’s last adieu!

A Silver-Gilt Medal was awarded to The Design CIC for their garden based on Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’.

This garden is designed to form the final part of an extended therapeutic play space for Kids Company in South London – their avowed mission is to help heal traumatised young lives.


“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

Other gardens were based on Kipling’s ‘My Boy Jack’; ‘Mont Blanc’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley and ‘Rural Architecture’ by William Wordsworth and can all be viewed by clicking here.

Reggae Reggae Reads

Published on behalf of Patrick Fisher, Young Persons Project Worker

In the current issue of the Times Educational Supplement, Levi Roots speaks about his reading childhood.

In it he says how he came to England as an 11-year-old boy unable to read, write or even spell his name. This directly affected his experience of school:

“Because I couldn’t read, I sat at the back of the class with the boys who misbehaved, while the bright boys sat in the front. We called the front of the class the North and the back the Deep South…I was humble in class, because I wanted to learn and felt a bit embarrassed about not being able to read. Outside class, I was rowdy and seen as a cool country boy who could open a bottle with my teeth or a stick. My peers bigged me up.”

This is a typical scenario for many children even today in High Schools; remaining quiet in class and hiding behind a boisterous facade. In the past two years I have been reading 1:1 and in groups with children who find reading and writing difficult. Regardless of how bright they can seem conversationally, almost all of them suffer from a crippling lack of confidence or embarrassment when it comes to reading which in the most extreme cases has resulted in a child claiming he doesn’t read because he is unable to picture anything in his head.

One of the main stumbling blocks that these children have in overcoming their insecurities is that they feel alone in their situation and are unable, like Levi, to confide in their peers. If as an individual you do not have the skills to access the material how can you begin?

This is why the Get Into Reading project has been so successful; it has allowed children of all ages to hear stories and poems ‘come alive’ and to explore them slowly over time. As Levi says:

“Having books available to me and knowing that I was about to learn what was in them was exciting.”

Levi was lucky enough to have a teacher who spent time making books accessible to him but given the ever increasing pressure placed on teachers this is unlikely to happen regularly. Children need this opportunity made available to them as soon as possible and in the pressure cooker of high school, where time is so short and expectations of achievement so high, it is even more important; how can a child be expected to run before they can walk?

National Carers Week – Book a Break

Posted on behalf of Zoe Gilling, Business Manager

National Carers Week is drawing to a close. This year, the theme for the week was ‘The True Face of Carers’. It calls for greater recognition for the diverse range of people who give up their time, money and health to look after somebody else.

We are also coming to the end of our Book a Break from Caring project funded by the Department of Health’s innovation fund. To date, this fund has enabled us to introduce approximately forty carers to the benefits of shared reading by incorporating Get into Reading tasters into an established Caring with Confidence course, through running Get into Reading sessions and by providing free training in reading aloud with someone you care for.

Through this project funding we are running one final training session in reading aloud with someone you care for.  The course is open to all carers, and is free of charge, with travel expenses paid. The course will be held at 19 Abercromby Square on Wednesday 29th June between 2pm and 5pm, and on Wednesday 6th July between 2pm and 5pm.  If you are a carer, or know a carer who might like more information or to book a place on this course please contact Michele Doyle on micheledoyle@thereader.org.uk or telephone 0151 794 2830.

We took part in the Carers week celebrations by attending a carers event hosted by Wirral CVS and another hosted by Local Solutions.  The event at Local Solutions held at St George’s Hall and was opened by the Mayor of Liverpool. Here are Zoe and Michele at the event befriending the Town Crier.

Fact of the Week #5

This week The Guardian published their list of the 100 greatest non-fiction books of all time. Three of these were grouped into the literature topic – The Lives of the Poets by Samuel Johnson, An Image of Africa by Chinua Achebe and The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim.

A good fact about Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, No Longer At Ease and A Man of the People, is that when he started at university in Nigeria he was admitted as a Major Scholar to study medicine, only to change subjects after a year to English, history and theology. Who knows, maybe if it had not been for this change of heart the world may never have been treated to Achebe’s brilliant literature.

The book featured in the list, An Image of Africa, attacks Joseph Conrad for his depiction of the African as an unruly savage in Heart of Darkness.

Other books to make it on to the Guardian’s list include Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer.

But what are YOUR favourite non-fiction books? Everyone loves talking about their favourite novels/poems/short stories, but how often do you sit down and think about your favourite piece of non-fiction?