Redeemable: Erwin James on reading and finding redemption

Ahead of his appearance at the London Penny Readings, we spoke to Erwin James about his new book Redeemable and his relationship with literature.

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Our top 5 tips for reading with young children

When it comes to reading with young children, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start or how to make it a fun bonding experience you’ll want to share again and again. But don’t worry, help is at hand with our top 5 tips!

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Get ready for World Read Aloud Day 2016

WRAD 2016 logoBy Robert Lyon, Communications Intern

Reading aloud holds so much value for individuals of all backgrounds and communities and so it is with great excitement that we look forward to World Read Aloud Day. On February 24th 2016 – that’s tomorrow – World Read Aloud Day calls attention to the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories. To read is to understand the thoughts and ideas of others; reading takes you away to another time and place and gives voice to the chaotic emotions of life.

“When reading, I could breathe.” – Former inpatient and Shared Reading group member

To read out loud is to take the words out of a book and bring them to life, making them resonate with readers on a personal and emotional level. World Read Aloud Day does something very special in seeking to encourage everyone to take the time to pick up a book, get reading and connect with themselves and others.

“Normally when I’m reading, I’m thinking about what I’m going to have for my tea! But reading aloud really helps you to concentrate and take it in.” – participant in a Shared Reading session

World Read Aloud Day is organised by LitWorld, a not for profit organisation that aims to promote global literacy and has had a lot of success doing it. With projects in places like the Philippines, Haiti and Africa they seek to give all children the ability to be a reader no matter their social or economic backgrounds. Their work in many ways reflects The Reader’s passion for literature and a desire to use it to help others.

One of our current projects that utilises reading aloud and encouraging it amongst a younger generation is the Off The Page project, commissioned by Liverpool Families Programme at Liverpool City Council.

“With a book it’s not like telly ‘cos it’s your imagination” – Charlie, 12 years old

Our Off The Page team are training volunteers to read one to one with 8 to 16 year olds for an hour a week, wherever possible in their own homes, taking a love of literature to disadvantaged young people across Liverpool. As well as reading one to one the project also hosts Family Fun days where Shared Reading is enjoyed with not only the children but the adults in their lives – be they parents, foster parents or workers. You can find out more about volunteering with Off The Page on our website.

Our new read-aloud anthology A Little, Aloud with Love - perfect to celebrate World Read Aloud Day!
Our new read-aloud anthology A Little, Aloud with Love – perfect to celebrate World Read Aloud Day!

Want to try reading aloud yourself? Here are some of our top tips for reading aloud from our dedicated Group Leaders:

  • Read silently to yourself first to familiarise yourself to the text
  • Practice reading aloud a couple of times to familiarise yourself with how you speak the text
  • Make eye contact with your audience every now and then
  • Mark your place with a finger so you don’t get lost!

Now have a go! Here’s something from our new anthology A Little, Aloud with Love to sink your teeth into and get reading aloud. Why not share the love of reading aloud with someone close this World Read Aloud Day?

To A Stranger

Passing stranger! you do not know
How longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking,
Or she I was seeking,
(it comes to me, as of a dream,)

I have somewhere surely
Lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall’d as we flit by each other,
Fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,

You grew up with me,
Were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you, and slept with you—your body has become
Not yours only, nor left my body mine only.

You give me the pleasure of your eyes,
Face, flesh, as we pass—you take of my beard, breast, hands,
In return,

I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you
When I sit alone, or wake at night alone,
I am to wait—I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

Walt Whitman

The Reader at the first National Arts in Health Conference

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.”

The Reader at AESOP
Our readers at the first Arts in Health National Conference (credit: AESOP)

A week ago, we took part in the first National Arts in Health conference, hosted by AESOP (Arts and Enterprises with a Social Purpose). Exploring the ways in which the arts can be harnessed to improve the provision of healthcare in the UK, the conference brought together leading thinkers and doers in the arts and health, and The Reader was lucky enough to be selected as only one of three organisations out of twenty eight to showcase in the opening plenary.

It was a truly inspiring day, attended by those including Arts Impact Fund amongst many others, and an honour to be featured alongside other organisations doing fantastic work to improve well-being amongst communities facing physical, mental and emotional difficulties. Our Communications Manager Emily Crawford was there on the day:

Last Friday I had the privilege of witnessing something pretty special.  Three of our reading group members – all of whom had their own very personal journey with The Reader and mental health – stood in front of 500 people at the Southbank Centre and told their stories about how Shared Reading has impacted upon their lives. They actually did a lot more than that – they spoke eloquently and did a spectacular job doing something that would terrify most people. The power of the work we do is seen most through stories like those that our three readers – three of hundreds across the UK – shared, and as I stood backstage was reminded just how important it is. People who at times who have felt utterly alone, disconnected and afraid  were able to take the leap to standing on stage in front of all those people and sharing all of that experience, as well as the huge distance they’ve travelled since then – and what’s more, had the room in complete silence hanging on every word. “I’m sitting here now – as a well person” is one of the lines that still rings in my head.

Our Founder and Director Jane Davis, alongside our readers in that bustling space on Friday, finished our section by sharing William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus. It’s a poem that’s been read in many of our weekly Shared Reading groups and so has a lot of resonance with many of our group members, including the three who shared their own stories. It’s a poem and a performance that led Peter Bazalgette, the chair for Public Health England, to take to the stage afterwards and proclaim that we had just ‘opened his eyes’. It’s a poem that, after practising for this performance, led one of our readers to turn to me and say “I’ve been repeating those lines ever since you gave me this you know, when things get frazzled: ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul’. It reminds me that I’m in charge of me.”

It was also great to have such a brilliant reaction from attendees of the Conference on Twitter:

Amazing stories of personal transformation by shared reading “There’s a lot of talking in shared reading”

Important also to recognise that group arts projects such as can also help to tackle issues of social isolation

Moving testimonies, simple programme and so effective

A huge congratulations and thanks to our readers for taking part and being such spectacular spokespeople for Shared Reading!

Find out more about the Conference over on the AESOP website: http://www.ae-sop.org/

The Reader Review of 2015

“If this life of ours
Be a good glad thing, why should we make us merry
Because a year of it is gone?”
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

P1000516It’s been a year of merriment as well as hard work, development and much Shared Reading around the UK, but before we close the momentous chapter of 2015, we want to take a little look back on just a few of the highlights of the past twelve months at The Reader.

From Liverpool, via Leicestershire, to London – Shared Reading across the country

Our Shared Reading model reaches people of all ages, demographics and settings, and in 2015 we’ve been able to bring Shared Reading to new places, as well as extending it across regions we’re already working in.

In Liverpool, there’s been a strong focus on our projects with children and young people where we’re encouraging a love of reading for pleasure from an early age, along with our partners at City of Readers. We’ve been delighted to help lead the way with reading as an early intervention in nurseries across the city and have ensured that a legacy can continue with little ones, parents and carers by the distribution of 300 Story Time boxes to nurseries and families. Our Off The Page project – our biggest volunteering project to date – started its three-year journey, reaching disadvantaged young people across the city with one-to-one weekly reading sessions that show how fulfilling connecting with books can be. Over in the Wirral, we started a similar project for Looked After Children, funded by Children in Need.

It’s been a big year for new projects in the North West, with Shared Reading coming to Knowsley, Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester, with groups for the community, older people living with dementia and carers. In Sheffield we celebrated the last four years of Shared Reading across Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust with a special event, and extended our volunteer-led project with Leicestershire Libraries in Leicester.

In the Southern parts of the country, our London projects went strength to strength with reading for wellbeing across South London, funded by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and the Maudsley Charity, a new memory loss group in conjunction with Tesco as part of our Barnet project and volunteering opportunities in West London. We brought Shared Reading to Somerset and our Wiltshire project for people living with dementia and memory loss became an award winner.

‘Great things are done when Men and Mountains meet’ – Shared Reading and Events

2015 was another year for wonderful events, many of which took place at our base at Calderstones Mansion. We welcomed Nicolette Jones and Frank Cottrell Boyce for a celebration of the 100 Modern Children’s Classics, hosted a summer spectacular of theatre which included the return of Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour with the classic Romeo and Juliet, brought together literature, art and music with Ad Hoc Creative EXPO and brought together more than a hundred of our group members, volunteers and trustees at an inspiring AGM.

Misty summit reading close upWe joined forces with City of Readers and Beanstalk to bring a day of reading across five locations in Liverpool with Anytime is Storytime in the summer, and brought something very Big to Calderstones in the form of The Big Dig, the first archaeological dig at the park to involve volunteers from the local community. Taking on big challenges was something of a theme this year as our team in North Wales organised the highest ever Shared Reading group at the peak of Mount Snowdon, overcoming all difficulties and perilous weather conditions.

The year rounded off in fine style with the twelfth annual Penny Readings at St George’s Hall. Another sell-out festive extravaganza saw captivating performances from Frank Cottrell Boyce, Maxine Peake and Shaun Evans.

A Year of The Reader – and other Great News

The Reader offered up more literary goodness and thought-provoking pieces throughout 2015, with issues offering contributions and interviews from names including Tim Parks, Ken Loach, Salley Vickers, David Constantine, Bill Bailey and Blake Morrison.

The value of Shared Reading continued to make an impact as we were shortlisted for the Social Enterprise Network Powerful Together Awards and the 2015 Natwest SE100 Awards, along with 21 other organisations in the UK. Our status as a social enterprise doing good for health and wellbeing rose as we were part of a rising contingent in the North West on the SE100 Index; even better news when we’re rapidly expanding our social enterprise work at Calderstones Mansion.

P1000158Our year ended with two big pieces of news that will ensure that our work can reach many more people who will benefit from Shared Reading can continue into the future. In November, we were delighted to continue our partnership with Social Business Trust as they awarded us funding and business support worth £1.5million which will help us to reach 27,000 people by 2018. Earlier this month we were able to secure the future of the International Centre for Reading at Calderstones with a confirmed grant of nearly £2million from Heritage Lottery Fund, rebuilding the future of Calderstones whilst celebrating its past heritage.

All of this made us very happy indeed – very appropriate considering that Jane made the Independent on Sunday’s Happy List this year!

We’re looking forward to the year to come, with two big things on the horizon early on – the launch of The Storybarn and A Little, Aloud With Love, the newest member of the A Little, Aloud anthology series. There’ll be lots more to come, including more stories from our group members and readers, and so as 2016 approaches we’re embracing Lord Tennyson’s outlook:

but Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

From all at The Reader, we wish you a happy and restful festive season.

Penny Readings 2015: Northern powerhouses, Astounding Broccoli Boys and Dickensian cheer

Maxine 1 - Caro Rowland
Maxine Peake on stage at the Penny Readings 2015 (credit: @CaroRowland on Twitter)

Last night, St George’s Hall in Liverpool was full to the brim with festive spirit as the Penny Readings 2015 took place. For just over two hours, the glittering Concert Room – which Charles Dickens himself deemed as “the finest room in the world for reading” when he read on the very same stage – saw the sell-out show wow the audience with seasonal literature, music and entertainment, all for the price of just one penny a ticket.

Our star readers came in the form of ‘Northern powerhouses’ Maxine Peake and Shaun Evans, delighting and moving us in equal measure with their choice of readings. We were treated to a double helping of D.H. Lawrence with extracts from Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow, perfectly brought to life by Maxine’s dulcet tones, with her take on the Morel’s family Christmas awaiting the arrival of eldest son William back from London rightly called ‘captivating‘ by one of our many audience members – a feeling that was surely shared by the whole room. The Dickensian spirit of the Penny Readings was in full effect with Shaun’s piece from David Copperfield, which saw the title character in particularly high spirits, and his characterful reading of the ‘devilish good fellow’ brought frequent gales of laughter from the crowd. Maxine ended with a poignant Christmas piece – The Oxen by Thomas Hardy – although arguably her most challenging role of the evening came when she was called upon to draw the famous Reader Raffle, which had some incredible prizes on offer including a Kiehl’s gift-set, tickets to The Alice Experience and The Beatles Story, hampers from Asda and LEAF, Independent Liverpool cards and a signed authenticated picture of Liverpool FC midfielder Phillipe Coutinho!

Shaun Evans reading from Dickens (credit: @Sbarber5bp on Twitter)
Shaun Evans reading from Dickens (credit: @Sbarber5bp on Twitter)

Another memorable performance came from the ever-entertaining Frank Cottrell Boyce, who read from his latest hit novel The Astounding Broccoli Boy after regaling us with tales from his schooldays and in particular the case of a nun who may or may not have been concealing a Dalek status…Frank also pleased the crowds by signing copies of the book in the foyer afterwards. Angie MacMillan treated us to an exclusive preview of the latest in the A Little, Aloud series – A Little, Aloud With Love, due to be published in early 2016, and the Christmas cheer was brought back into proceedings with special guests Adele, Madison and Josh from Norman Pannell Primary School telling us the story of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. As ever, Phil Davis invoked the festive spirit with the traditional reading from A Christmas Carol, bringing the scene from the Cratchits’ dinner table to life.

Musical interludes were brought courtesy of The Ukulele Uff & Lonesome Dave Trio with their set of singalong classics including the love song for insects Never Swat A Fly and Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies, the super-talented piano player – and composer! – Evie Gill-Hannan, and the AINE Gospel Choir, finalists from the BBC Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year 2014, who led the whole cast and crowd in a soulful rendition of Lean On Me to bring this year’s proceedings to a rousing close.

It was a real compliment for our supporters Publiship to call this year’s show the ‘Best Penny Readings ever’ and the #PennyReadings hashtag on Twitter was full of similar highlights from those in attendance:

Absolutely loved our first at . Thanks for organising a great evening! 🙂

all sounding/looking beautiful for the magical

Loved listening to made me laugh and nearly cry at end of reading…

Thanks and for a fab night.

Shaun Evans and Maxine Peake backstage with staff from Whitefield Primary School
Shaun Evans and Maxine Peake backstage with staff from Whitefield Primary School

With so much festivity and goodwill in abundance, we like to think that Dickens would be proud.

All that is left to say is a massive thank you to all of our performers, supporters, stall holders including News From Nowhere, Royden Revolve Rotary Club and The Reader Cafe, staff members and everyone in attendance for making the Penny Readings 2015 so memorable. Here’s to next year! In the meantime, to borrow a phrase or two from Bob Cratchit:

“A merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”

Sheffield celebrates Shared Reading

Last month, just days after our 2015 AGM, we headed to Sheffield for a special event showcasing and celebrating the impact of shared reading. We’ve been working with Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust since 2011, and for the last year have had a dedicated Reader-in-Residence delivering shared reading sessions across the trust in inpatient, community and primary care settings.

Sheffield cakeStaff and volunteers from across the trust, including those who have lived experience of mental health, joined us to share their personal experiences of shared reading and the differences it has made to them both personally and professionally, in their jobs and communities in which they live and work. As well as hearing these powerful first-hand testimonials, there was the chance to read a selection of poems collectively – and enjoy a slice of specially-made Reader cake!

Along with our Founder and Director Jane Davis, Katie McAllister, The Reader’s Development Manager for Mental Health, was also in the audience:

“Mia Bajin, the Patient and Public Involvement Manager at SHSC, who was instrumental in Sheffield commissioning a Read to Lead course way back in 2011, talked about the history of the project and about how much has been read since it started  – it’s almost the equivalent of reading every Shakespeare play 15 times!

After hearing from our Reader-in-Residence about the range of groups that have been set up and supported by The Reader in the past year, we got to hear from Read to Lead trained mental health and social care professionals and how the training has impacted trust service users directly through the delivery of shared reading.

“You learn to carve a space, and people see an opening to say what they want to say” – Read to Lead trained member of staff at Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust

“The words, they’re lovely” – reaction from a dementia patient reading within Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust

We broke out into three shared reading sessions in which we read Wood Grouse on a High Promontory Overlooking Canada by David Guterson (thanks Shaun!) and Evening by Rainer Maria Rilke. Finally, we heard from Trust Chief Executive Kevan Taylor who talked about his own personal reading experiences, and what reading meant to him. Of our work he said, “the evidence base [for shared reading] is clearly there”.

“There’s an Emily Dickinson poem for every day of your life” – Kevan Taylor, Chief Executive of Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust

At the centre of the event was the work we have been doing within SHSC for the last year. Shaun Lawrence is Reader-in-Residence for Sheffield:

“On the day, I was caught up in the moment and was kept busy hosting the event and speaking about my experiences, so much of the morning was, I confess, rather a blur. For me the event was the culmination of a year’s work which began in November 2014 as I joined The Reader, since when I have been working to develop my skills as a shared reading practitioner alongside building up a solid relationship with colleagues in the Trust, in order to establish and develop my groups.

I was thrilled to realise the depth of feeling for the work that I have undertaken at SHSC over the past year. I got a real sense of the strength of the connections that had been made between people on the wards, and of the lasting effects of the shared reading groups which extended beyond each of the weekly sessions. I was also delighted by the sense of pride in the project that was evident in the volunteers, ward colleagues and recent Read to Lead trainees here at SHSC, and hearing the testimonials from them was for me, a real joy. Indeed, to hear first-hand experiences from staff about the impact of those groups on service users, and also with staff alike, really brought home to me the difference that the work of The Reader is making to people’s lives across the Trust.

I was very proud to be able to celebrate the success of my project in Sheffield and felt that having Jane present to hear the heart-warming testimonials from long standing volunteer readers was a validation in the trust that The Reader placed in me as a remote worker.”

Congratulations to Shaun and everyone involved in making shared reading such a success in Sheffield.