World Mental Health Day

The Reader Organisation is the UK’s leading charity for reading and health, and as today is World Mental Health Day, we thought we would celebrate our long-standing, innovative and hugely successful partnership with Mersey Care NHS Trust.

We were recently joined by Alan Yates, the Chief Executive of the Trust, at the Liverpool launch event for A Little, Aloud, who praised the presence of Get Into Reading in Mersey Care and the huge impact it was having in improving the wellbeing of service users. Also important for Alan, is the cost effectiveness of Get Into Reading:

I can identify people within Get Into Reading at Mersey Care NHS Trust who otherwise would have needed in-patient care had it not been for the support and benefit of the groups. Groups cost about £6 per person per session; by comparison, an in-patient stay costs on average £9,000.

Here are a few words from some of the other people involved in our Mersey Care Reader-in-Residence project, starting with Lindsey Dyer, Director for Service Users and Carers at Mersey Care:

The Get Into Reading programme has been running in Mersey Care NHS Trust since 2007 and currently there are 34 reading groups across all our services – adult mental health, older people, learning disabilities, drugs and alcohol and low, medium and high security services – a testament to the success of our partnership with The Reader Organisation.

The weekly reading groups provide vital creativity and engagement and contribute to the mental well-being of service users and staff. Mersey Care staff, including the Chief Executive Alan Yates and Medical Director Dr David Fearnley, are trained to facilitate the reading groups themselves, ensuring that these groups can continue for years to come.

Mary Weston, Mersey Care Reader-in-Residence Project Manager, The Reader Organisation:

In October 2009 we put on a literary festival in conjunction with Liverpool’s Bluecoat annual ‘Chapter and Verse’ festival within Mersey Care.  You can read about Brian Keenan’s visit to Ashworth in The Reader 38.

After the huge success of last year, we decided to do it again! This year our star visitor will be Mersey Beat poet Brian Patten, who will be talking to some of the older service users about life in Liverpool and at Ashworth Hospital, Chuck Perkins, a jazz poet from New Orleans, is performing. And much more besides…

We will be putting on several smaller events in the new year:  author visits and workshops that we take direct to the wards to maximise the number of service users who can attend.

Dr David Fearnley, Psychiatrist of the Year 2009 and Medical Director, Mersey Care:

“Get Into Reading is one of the most significant developments to have taken place in Mersey Care NHS Trust and mental health practice in the last ten years.”

From one of our readers in Mersey Care:

Being part of a group is special – it’s a bit more than just reading a book.  I was never a great reader beforehand, but this group is something that Ihave become attached to; it means a lot to me to be part of it and it has helped me in my life outside the group as well.

Grace Farrington, who is working on a doctoral research project looking at shared reading as a therapeutic intervention (and is facilitating and observing groups within Mersey Care NHS Trust) writes here about the links between reading and mental health:

The relationship between reading and mental health is not one of guarantee, or straightforward prescription. The history of this relationship is diverse and suggests the potential power that can be activated by literature, whether the mind be healthy, diseased or troubled. Its effects might be as various as its readers. Autobiographical accounts are thus able to convey the impact that a text had for an individual, at a particular time in their lives. John Stuart Mill, for example, found in reading Wordsworth a key to his own recovery from a breakdown towards which he had long been heading. Marcel Proust wrote of the captivating experience of reading as a child, when the characters or “beings” in a book would absorb his full attention and devotion, to  become his closest companions. And Charles Dickens has the character of David Copperfield recount a similar tale of how reading provided a source of comfort and an enlivening stimulus to his boyhood imagination, when all other relationships were failing him. Reading then is a way of making the present more habitable.

But the effects of reading might not always be so easily traced. Wordsworth makes ‘The Growth of a Poet’s Mind’ into a history of epic length, and if the mind is as complex as this suggests, then perhaps we do not know what effect the reading of a text will have on the way we think and process thoughts, today, tomorrow, or in years to come. It may be that reading deposits in the mind memories, thoughts, suggestions, that come to bear a much longer term significance. This long-term development of the mind, facilitated by reading, is in alignment with recent recommendations  within the science of wellbeing; a government report of 2008 highlighted the importance of “mental capital” to the way in which an individual is able to cope with significant life events.

At a more fundamental level, the relationship between reading and mental health can also be viewed in reverse, since many writers are known to have expressed in their work, with almost painful articulation, aspects of their own mental suffering. The enduring work of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, to name just a few, bears testimony to the strength of the mind to shed light on its own condition, from within itself; producing markers and maps of experience that readers continue to recognise from within themselves.

What was The Reader doing there?

In response to yesterday’s question:

Jane Davis was at the Conservative Party Conference to speak at a seminar which was launching the Citizens University, an idea developed by the Young Foundation as a novel way of providing citizens with the skills and confidence they need to help others. It’s something that we were really keen to get involved in, so Jane spoke at the seminar about how TRO would offer short training courses to enable people to read aloud with others in their community. Jane said:

The Citizen’s University has the potential to change the way we all live, person by person; we’re delighted to be involved.

We lose more than 91 million working days a year to poor mental health, at a cost of £77 billion and its rising. At the same time levels of literacy are falling.

Reading aloud together develops good mental health, increases literacy, builds supportive communities and helps discover meaning: in workplaces, hospitals, dementia care homes, schools.

Later on that day, PM David Cameron mentioned the Citizens University in his speech:

Your country needs you. And today I want to tell you about the part we’ve all got to play, and the spirit that will take us through. It’s the spirit I saw in a group of NHS maternity nurses in my constituency who told me they wanted to form a co-op to use their own ideas and their nous to help new parents. It’s the spirit you see just down the road in Balsall Heath, where local residents’ street patrols have turned a no-go area into a place where people can once again feel safe. It’s the spirit that just today, has seen some of our leading social organisations come together to set up a new Citizen University, to help give people the skills they need to play a bigger part in society. It’s the spirit of activism, dynamism, people taking the initiative, working together to get things done.

More on our involvement with the Citizens University as the project develops.

National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day and, although Lisa mentioned this on Monday, it seems only right to mark the day itself. Instead of giving something to you directly, however, I’m going to make you work a little bit harder and choose something for yourself: click here and take your pick of one of our featured poems from the last two years. Then make a cup of tea, pick up a chocolate biscuit, relax and read it aloud – to yourself, or someone you care for.

The rhyme and reason of reading to dementia patients

Following on from Claire’s post about TRO in The Times

There’s a piece in Society Guardian today about Katie Clark’s work in dementia care homes and the publication of our anthology, A Little, Aloud, which we hope to see in every care home in the UK very soon:

It’s really hard when family members have developed dementia. They can’t remember the people you’re talking about, or even what day it is. You want to go and visit people and have a nice time with them, but what do you talk about? The book is a wonderful resource for sharing something together.

Read it in full here.

If you work in or visit care homes or hospitals, please do buy a copy of A Little, Aloud: it will give you, and the person you care for, some very special moments.

A Little, Aloud: The London Launch

Yesterday afternoon Jane and I left sunny Liverpool to head down to (a rather grey) London and meet up with Angie for the launch of A Little, Aloud in Waterstone’s, Piccadilly. Worried that no-one would turn up due to the tube strikes (I have poor luck when it comes to strikes interrupting my plans) and if we would even get across London in time ourselves, we were overjoyed to see the room filling up with plenty of friendly faces and some unknown ones.

Hosted by Jane, the event was full of warmth and energy and we were joined by the endearing and amusing Richard Briers, the elegant Joanna Trollope and our chief patron, Blake Morrison, all of them doing readings from the book, all of them brilliantly: Blake read Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Digging’ and Gillian Clarke’s ‘Miracle on St. David’s Day’, Joanna Trollope read Saki’s ‘The Lumber Room’, and Richard Briers read ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’. Angie spoke movingly about the genesis of the book – reading aloud with groups in care homes – and then read Keats’ ‘A Thing of Beauty’, beautiful itself.

A Little, Aloud is out in the world now, and we’re all incredibly proud.

You can order your copy here.

Joanna, Jane, Richard, Blake and Angie
Richard Briers reads 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'
Angie talks about how the book came about


Thanks to A Little, Aloud, the word about reading aloud is spreading further and wider. Agebomb, a site published by Geraldine Bedel, is “an attempt to monitor the changing landscape brought about by population explosion” and, after hearing about the book, has visited one of our Get Into Reading groups and written about ‘The Joy of Reading Aloud’:

Until recently, though, it hadn’t occurred to me that reading aloud was a perfect pastime for older people. Listening to the written word in the company of others and discussing what you have heard is about as un-patronising an activity as you could find: democratic, shared, and exhilarating, allowing individuals to find meaning together, to make connections and uncover memories.

Read it in full.

The Reader Organisation Showcases

Want to know more about The Reader Organisation and Get Into Reading? Interested in running or commissioning shared reading group projects but not sure how to go about it? Need to know how Read to Lead Training can improve your services?

Well, now all of these questions can be answered at our new Showcase events:

Showcases are free, two-hour events in which you can meet The Reader Organisation face to face and find out the answers to these questions. Through a detailed presentation, beneficiary case stories and readings from key members of TRO staff you will gain a deeper understanding of what we do, how we do it, and, crucially, how you can get involved. It is your first step towards becoming a part of the Reading Revolution!

The next Showcases will be held on the following dates and locations:

  • Wednesday 20th October, 2pm-4pm: London
  • Monday 15th November, 2pm – 4pm: Birmingham
  • Monday 29th November, 2pm-4pm: London

Showcases are free events but you must book your place in order to attend. Spaces are limited, so it is advised to book well in advance to avoid disappointment. To book your place, or to find out more, please contact Mark Till, Training Officer, on or 0151 794 2286

TRO shortlisted for Morgan Foundation Entrepreneur Award

It’s been a week of excitement here at The Reader Organisation and it’s not over yet:

We’re delighted to announce that we’ve been shortlisted as part of the Morgan Foundation Entrepreneur Awards! We’ve been nominated in the Best Entrepreneurial Charity or Social Enterprise in Liverpool.

The awards were established in 2007 and are designed to encourage entrepreneurship in the North West and North Wales – whether in new businesses, young entrepreneurs, social enterprises or charities. More info here.

The ceremony will be held on 11th November, so we’ll let you know the outcome then – until then, wish us luck!