Jane Davis joins The Happy List 2015!

Jane Davis High ResWe’re feeling particularly happy today as Jane Davis, our Founder and Director, has made it onto the Independent on Sunday’s Happy List 2015!

The IoS Happy List was set up in 2008 to recognise and celebrate people who enrich the lives of others and make Britain a happier and more caring place to be. From charity fundraisers and founders to teachers, emergency service workers and community heroes, the Happy List features those who have made an extraordinary effort within their local communities and beyond for no personal gain, giving back to others instead. What makes the Happy List so special is that the nominations are made entirely by the public and readers of the Independent on Sunday.

As Founder of The Reader Organisation, Jane has pioneered the practice of shared reading as a way not only to experience the emotional power but also the sheer pleasure that comes from reading great literature aloud, together. From setting up the first ever shared reading group in Birkenhead in 2002, hundreds of groups now run across the UK reaching people of all ages, backgrounds and circumstances.  The combination of the texts read, a relaxed and informal atmosphere and being in the company of others on a regular weekly basis – as well as the additional treats of tea and biscuits – make the groups beneficial to many of our members, giving a boost to wellbeing and confidence as well as fostering new friendships.

‘I don’t know what it is but after this group I always leave feeling better. It’s like a life tonic.’

‘Shared reading is like sitting around a fire and telling stories to each other – a way of binding us together.’

– shared reading group members

Jane Louise moneyShared reading brings many happy moments to our Readers each week, but what is it that makes Jane happy? Getting out and admiring the blooms around our HQ at Calderstones Park is near the top of the list, and earlier this week she was joined on one of her walks by Louise Jones, a long-time group member. Louise gave Jane the remarkable news that since Jane announced her goal to get fit and raise money for the Calderstones Mansion project she has saved up £1 a week to put towards the fund. Not only that, but she presented Jane with the money that she has generously saved. A wonderful gesture which will go towards giving future generations a happy, welcoming and vibrant place to call a home from home. There’s still time to be part of the last push – you can sponsor Jane’s efforts by visiting her fundraising page.

The Happy List 2015 is available in full in today’s Independent on Sunday, and online. All the chosen 100 Happy Listers will be invited to a celebratory reception hosted in their honour by luxury hotel group Grange Hotels in central London this summer, and there’s even more exciting news ahead as every individual featured on the Happy List will also receive the accolade of being put forward for special recognition at the JustGiving 2015 Awards.

For more ways to feel happy, visit the dedicated Happy List digital hub: http://www.independent.co.uk/happylist/ and see @happylist100. Remember, you can always pop into one of our open shared reading groups around the UK too: see the full, up-to-date list on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reading-with-us

Open Book with Marilynne Robinson – and The Reader Organisation

Marilynne Robinson speaking at our 'Reading for Wellbeing' conference in 2011
Marilynne Robinson speaking at our ‘Reading for Wellbeing’ conference in 2011

This week’s edition of Open Book on BBC Radio 4 was a treat for literature lovers, featuring an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson about her new novel Lila, the long anticipated third book in her bestselling series set in the fictional town of Gilead (following on from Gilead and Home). Certainly many of us at The Reader Organisation are big fans of Marilynne Robinson and her work, and became even more so when she joined us as a guest speaker at our second ever Conference in New Brighton in 2011, with some lucky enough to spend an evening in the company of the author at Blackburne House beforehand.

We were proud to stand alongside Marilynne again as the programme also included a special feature on the ‘reading oasis’ that can be found at Calderstones Mansion House. Earlier in the year Open Book visited Calderstones, guided by our Founder and Director Jane Davis, to witness some shared reading in action and see just how we are already starting to build an International Centre for Reading with our group members from the local community and beyond. You can listen to Calderstones on Open Book here (approx 11 minutes 52 seconds in): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04p5m1y

The feature included input from Professor Rhiannon Corcoran from University of Liverpool who talks about her special interest in the practice of shared reading and one of our trustees Dr Shyamal Mukherjee, Medical Director of NHS Wirral, identifying the benefits shared reading can provide to people’s health and wellbeing, as well as contributing to increased social interaction on a unique and deeply emotional scale.

Some of our reading group members could also be heard on the programme, discussing the in and outs of Dombey and Son as well as enjoying our very popular babies, toddlers and parents/carers reading group Tiny Reads. There can’t be too many other Grade II listed buildings in the country where you would find Dickens being read doors along from The Gruffalo on a Friday morning!

Reading with tots right up to the young at heart is exactly what we want to do at Calderstones – encouraging everyone to come through the doors to enjoy the pure pleasure of reading, as well as to connect with those around them in what will be a true community hub with great literature at its heart. Including gallery and events spaces, a crammed calendar for the whole family to enjoy and a cafe full of tasty treats, we’re always developing at Calderstones: http://www.thereader.org.uk/calderstones

Catch up with Open Book on the BBC Radio 4 website, or you can listen again by tuning into BBC Radio 4 this Thursday 20th November at 3.30pm. Listen to the Calderstones feature on its own by heading here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02c7r89

“Reading has given me life”: Better with a Book

Our Young People panel, Baroness Estelle Morris, Dr Alice Sullivan and Simon Barber with Jane (c. @PennyFosten, Twitter)
Our Young People panel, Baroness Estelle Morris, Dr Alice Sullivan and Simon Barber with Jane (c. @PennyFosten, Twitter)

Yesterday delegates, readers and The Reader Organisation staff descended on The British Library Conference Centre in London, awaiting a day of stimulating discussion and thought-provoking insights into the practice of shared reading for our fifth annual National Conference, Better with a Book. The sun was shining early, which was only a sign of the good things to come, and anticipation for the day started early with our #betterwithabook hashtag on Twitter:

Off to ‘s national conference . Anticipating inspiration, ideas and some great poems.

Read. Share. Live. Inspire. Be inspired. Be well.

We welcomed delegates from a wide range of fields, including libraries and community development, education, therapy, law, nursing, and from across the country and beyond – even from as far away as Melbourne, showcasing the global reach that shared reading is beginning to have.

After a welcome from Founder and Director Dr Jane Davis thanking everyone for being advocates of reading for pleasure, the day started by asking whether young people are Better with a Book featuring an esteemed panel, Baroness Estelle Morris (Institute of Effective Education at the University of York), Dr Alice Sullivan (Director 1970 British Cohort Study, Institute of Education, University of London) and Simon Barber (Chief Executive at 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Trust). After reading from their favourite childhood books, Dr Sullivan presented the findings of an illuminating study which found that young people’s reading habits had more influence on their attainment than the level of their parents’ education. The matter of giving young people choice to explore reading in relation to their place in their world was a big talking point – Simon spoke of his experiences of running a group for young people in the mental health inpatient unit at 5 Boroughs, where they chose to read texts as eclectic as Black Beauty and Romeo and Juliet, and Estelle placed emphasis on reading as a social context for children and young people.

Great to be with a whole room of compassionate bookworms ‘s event

The most inspiring and incredibly moving part of the day came when we met some of our readers from shared reading groups in London and Merseyside who shared their personal experiences of the impact shared reading has had upon their lives, from giving them the confidence to live well as well as discover new skills (Jennifer went on to do Read to Lead training), find employment, appear on stage, and in the most fundamental and significant cases, provided them with the means to keep on living. Shared reading was described as a ‘lifesaver’ and the power of the testimonies was truly alive in the room:

Inspiring personal testimonies from readers. Life changing moments beautifully told

such transformation in people’s lives has happened through reading groups!

Incredibly moving, funny, raw stories from those attending groups with

It wasn’t just the effect on themselves that was brought to life – Jennifer spoke passionately about her work reading with people with dementia, and one woman in particular for whom shared reading has brought joy and a release to her life, so much so that it is a major point of her week:

“She’s in the poetry, and for one whole hour she’s happy.”

Seminars honing in on the topics of shared reading in PIPEs, research into the cultural significance of shared reading, examining the working model of shared reading for commissioners and the links between reading for pleasure and cognitive development gave much for us to think about before heading to our main afternoon sessions.

Lord Melvyn Bragg at Better with a Book (c. @Hollingtonn, Twitter)
Lord Melvyn Bragg at Better with a Book (c. @Hollingtonn, Twitter)

Lord Alan Howarth (Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Arts, Health and Wellbeing) chaired a panel discussion how reading in prisons can contribute to prison reform and how prisoners should be helped within the system and on return to the community. The complex topic was masterfully handled by Nick Benefield (previous Advisor on Personality Disorder at NHS England and Joint Head of the NHS Personality Disorder Programme), Lord David Ramsbotham (House of Lords member with a focus on penal reform and defence) and Megg Hewlett (Reader-in-Residence and PIPEs group leader in West London). Following the day’s emerging theme of shared reading ‘opening and unlocking’ individuals, Megg shared the story of a young woman within a criminal justice setting finding herself in the poem Bluebird by Charles Bukowski, and Lord Ramsbotham spoke of his belief in the importance of Readers-in-Residence to both the medical and educational needs of prisoners.

Our keynote speech came from writer, broadcaster and author Lord Melvyn Bragg, who spoke in-depth about the story behind his novel Grace and Mary, which came from his own experiences of his mother being diagnosed with dementia. He spoke about how it was important for him to help and discussed how literature linked with his lived experiences of the condition; in particular highlighting The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot and King Lear (“Nothing will come of nothing.”). In discussion with Jane, Lord Bragg spoke about his life as a reader, saying that he couldn’t imagine his life without books and explaining in powerful words what reading has done for him.

“Reading has given me life…reading has given me several lives…reading has given me access to the possibility of a great number of lives.”

His words proved just as inspiring for our audience:

Melvyn Bragg ‘access to the paths not taken- that’s all in reading’. Amazing closing talk ‘s conference

A closing point from Jane which reminded us of the importance of finding ourselves in reading books from the ages rounded off a remarkable day which highlighted in real human terms the remarkable effects reading can have on so many different lives. ‘Inspirational’ was the word of the day from our #betterwithabook attendees, and it was a very fitting term indeed.

Better with a Book was featured on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking by Jules Evans from Queen Mary Centre for the History of Emotions, University of London. Listen from around 38 min 20 secs in to hear about books that have helped guests through hard times and an exploration of our work and research: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0435bj1

Much Ado About Nothing: Read the Play in a Day!

Much Ado 2 72dpiMuch Ado About Nothing: Read the Play in a Day!
Saturday 7th June, 10am-4pm
Calderstones Mansion House, Calderstones Park, Liverpool L18 3JB

“I do love nothing in the world so well as you – is not that strange?”

Excitement is building here at The Reader Organisation as we anticipate the arrival of Shakespeare’s Globe and their touring production of Much Ado About Nothing for five performances at the Garden Theatre, Calderstones Mansion House this June. If you haven’t snapped up your tickets yet, then why not use the extra long weekend to take care of it? More information about the performances on Thursday 12th, Friday 13th and Saturday 14th June (includes matinee performances on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th June) can be found on the events calendar on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/courses

Ahead of the shows, we’re running an extra special Short Course giving you the chance to get to grips with the play before you get to see it live. Join us on Saturday 7th June at Calderstones for a rip-roaring, confidence-boosting, all-embracing ‘Play in a Day’ where you can truly enjoy one of Shakespeare’s liveliest comedies inside out.

Led by The Reader Organisation’s Founder and Director, Jane Davis, and a team of our Shakespeare-loving staff, we’ll be taking over Calderstones Mansion to read Much Ado together. And you never know, with your new-found confidence, you may even feel inspired to tread the boards yourself before the day is through!

No advance reading or prior knowledge of the play is required, and all ages are welcome.

Places on the course cost £30/£15 concessions (including lunch), with a special offer of a 10% discount if you bring along a friend who hasn’t attended one of our Short Courses before. Please reference the name of your friend when making your booking.

To book your place, please contact Literary Learning Coordinator Jenny Kelly on jenniferkelly@thereader.org.uk or call 0151 207 7207.

For more information about this course and our others, visit our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/courses

Led by The Reader Organisation’s Founder and Director, Jane Davis, and a team of our Shakespeare-loving staff, we’ll take over Calderstones Mansion together reading Much Ado About Nothing. And you never know, with your new-found confidence, you may even feel inspired to tread the boards yourself before the day is through! – See more at: http://www.thereader.org.uk/courses/much-ado-about-nothing-read-the-play-in-a-day!.aspx#sthash.ZWWHRhk0.dpuf

“Reading should be a big part of everybody’s life”: Better with a Book

At Better with a Book, The Reader Organisation’s National Conference, we’ll be exploring how the shared reading model pioneered by The Reader Organisation uses literature to improve mental health, stimulate emotional development, reduce social isolation and enhance quality of life. Throughout the day on Thursday 15th May in London, the practice of shared reading and its impact upon individuals, communities and organisations will be discussed in a range of illuminating sessions.

The shared reading movement is not only booming across the UK but has also travelled abroad thanks to our revolutionary training programme Read to Lead. We’ve made several visits over to Belgium to create shared reading practitioners who are furthering the Reading Revolution, and last month saw the launch of Het Lezercollectief (The Readers Collective), a cooperative network of readers  inspired by the work of The Reader Organisation.

Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation Jane Davis sent her good wishes across to Belgium, and in a specially made video Jane talks about why she feels that sharing reading and bringing literature out into the community is so vital. From her own experience of being powerfully moved and affected by literature to the extraordinary impact it is having on the lives of others – including people in isolation cells in Broadmoor Hospital – shared reading has come a long way since The Reader Organisation’s beginnings. And why does reading need to be shared aloud instead of in our heads to have such a significant effect? This question and more are answered by watching on…


Discover more about shared reading and how it works within health, education, criminal justice and community settings with Jane and guest speakers including Lord Melvyn Bragg and Baroness Estelle Morris, as well as some of our Readers and commissioners, at Better with a Book at The British Library Conference Centre in London on Thursday 15th May.

Full day delegate places (including VAT, lunch and refreshments) cost £140, and are available to book via our website, by cheque or invoice.

For more information or to inquire about the day, please contact Abigail Leader:  abigailleader@thereader.org.uk or call 0151 207 7221.

The Divine Comedy for Beginners or the Bewildered

dante imageShort Courses for Serious Readers: The Divine Comedy for Beginners or the Bewildered
Saturday 1st March, 10am-4pm
Calderstones Mansion House, Liverpool, L18 3JD

Halfway along the road we have to go,
I found myself obscured in a dark forest,
Bewildered, and I knew I had lost the way
– The Divine Comedy, Dante

Experiencing a crossroads in your life, or have you gone off track and struggling to find your way? Perhaps you’re still seeking the new start you had promised yourself at the beginning of the year? Our latest Short Course for Serious Readers will take you on a journey through life and what is considered one of the greatest works of literature: The Divine Comedy by Dante.

Written in the 14th Century, The Divine Comedy is composed of over 14,000 lines in three canticas, charting Dante’s voyage of discovery through the three kingdoms: Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Heaven (Paradiso). Through this imaginary journey to determine the situation of human souls after death, an autobiographical element emerges – at the age of 36, Dante was forced into exile from Florence and spent the rest of his life on the road, dependent on the generosity of others and his writing. The Divine Comedy begins on the night before Good Friday in the year 1300 when Dante is 35 – half of the life expectancy outlined in the Bible, and so ‘halfway along the road’. Lost in a dark wood, surrounded by beasts and unable to find the right way – it’s a situation that while perhaps not as extreme many of us will have contended with at some point in our lives, and you may be surprised to know how lines written over 700 years ago can speak to our fundamental human responses and emotions in the modern day.

This March we will be treading Dante’s path by joining Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation, Jane Davis, as she leads us through The Divine Comedy. With fellow travellers at your side throughout the day there’s no need to feel daunted but daring instead, reading lines that are centuries old together and discovering that they’re full of feelings that we recognise.

Edit: This course is now fully booked.

Attendees can prepare for the adventure of reading Dante by picking up a copy of C.H. Sissons translation of the text in the Worlds Classics Series (Oxford University Press), which we’ll be referring to in the Short Course. Copies of the book can be bought through The Reader Organisation’s Amazon Bookshop, with a percentage of the purchase price supporting our outreach work.

For more information on The Divine Comedy for Beginners or the Bewildered, visit our website.

Jane Davis becomes a UK Ashoka Fellow

The Reader Organisation Jane Davis 72 dpiCongratulations to Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation Jane Davis, who has been officially launched as a 2014 Ashoka Fellow. At an inspiring ceremony in London last week, Jane was welcomed into the Ashoka Fellowship network along with five other Fellows who are leading the way in making a personal drive to change the systems within which they work to solve social and environmental issues.

Ashoka is best-known as the leading global network of social entrepreneurs, existing to grow the impact that is made by social entrepreneurs and with the aim of getting closer to a world where everyone is a changemaker. There are currently more than 3,000 Ashoka Fellows in over 80 nations across five continents, with 56% of Fellows having so far effected a national public policy change. Each year hundreds of nominations for potential candidates are received by Ashoka, with elections made by the criteria of New Idea, Social Impact, Entrepreneuralism, Creativity and Ethical Fibre.

Ashoka LogoJane was handpicked to become one of the new UK Ashoka Fellows earlier this year, the first to be based in the North of the country. Jane was chosen for the pioneering practice of shared reading being a therapeutic tool which helps to tackle the problems of isolation and loneliness in an increasingly individualised society. Through the reading of great literature people are able to articulate their feelings and thoughts, improving wellbeing and building community.

Prior to her official launch, in September this year Jane was made the Ashoka Fellow of the Month; you can read Jane’s personal Story of Change on the Ashoka UK website, including how a novel by the late Doris Lessing transformed her view of the world overnight: http://uk.ashoka.org/spotlight-jane-davis

We’re incredibly proud of Jane to receive such an honour, increasing the effort of change that shared reading is making day by day on a national and potentially international scale. Congratulations to all the new Ashoka UK Fellows as we head into a new year filled with the great potential to make a change.

Take a look at the pictures from the Ashoka UK Fellows Induction ceremony on the Ashoka UK Facebook page and find out more about Ashoka on their Twitter: @AshokaUK

Reading Paradise Lost with Jane Davis

Tree of Knowledge with SnakeReading Paradise Lost: a Short Course for Serious Readers led by Jane Davis
10am-4pm, Saturday 7th September
Calderstones Mansion House, Liverpool

Have you been meaning to get round to reading Paradise Lost but never found the time? Not sure where to begin with one of English Literature’s greatest epics? Already love Milton, and looking for an opportunity to read his words out loud?

Whatever your relationship to the poem, come and join Jane Davis, Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation, for this special Short Course for Serious Readers, focusing on  one of Milton’s most classic works. Spend a summer’s day in the beautiful surroundings of Calderstones Mansion House, the future International Centre for Reading and Wellbeing situated in Calderstones Park, Liverpool, where Jane will lead us in reading Paradise Lost, together.

Good and evil, temptation and betrayal, what it means to be human: this poem has it all. Let’s read it and share it together.

Places on this special course cost £30, including lunch / £15 concessionary rate for Get Into Reading group members, students, pensioners and unemployed.

Tempted? Contact Sophie Johnson on sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk / 0151 207 7207 to reserve your place.

Find out more about our Short Courses for Serious Readers, as well as the other courses in our Literary Learning programme, by visiting the Courses section of our website.

Big Venture Challenge 2013

big venture challengeWe’re delighted to announce that The Reader Organisation has been unveiled as one of the winners of the Big Venture Challenge 2013.

The Big Venture Challenge is run by UnLtd, the leading provider of support to social entrepreneurs in the UK, and supports entrepreneurs by giving them access to business support, powerful connections and match funding to help them raise investment and deliver social impact at scale. Following a pilot in 2011, the programme is funded by the Big Lottery Fund to support a total of 100 new social entrepreneurs over the next three years.

The 2013 Big Venture Challenge saw social entrepreneurs from around the country apply to scale their ventures with an expert team. Just 30 were chosen and have been announced at the Big Venture Challenge launch today – and we’re very proud that The Reader Organisation is amongst them. Our Director Jane Davis and Managing Director Chris Catterall are down at the launch in London representing us, and will be looking forward to meeting the other winners at what promises to be an exciting day.

The future is already looking bright for The Reader Organisation, with our plans to develop The International Centre for Reading and Wellbeing at Calderstones, and being part of the Big Venture Challenge will build more opportunities for us to reach the widest range of Readers.

You can follow the launch of Big Venture Challenge throughout the day on Twitter @BigVentureChall  or use the hashtag #BVC2013.

Signs and Wonders

kinder egg
The miraculous chocolate discoveries of the Davis Family continue…

We should have saved this post for National Choc-miracle Day but really, we couldn’t wait!

Once, long ago, as a young teenager, our Founder and Director, Jane Davis, bought on her way to school a Bar Six that had two of its sections (two of six) as solid chocolate. Jane wondered – and ate.

Much later, in 1988, she bought a KitKat that had no biscuit in it – just chocolate all the way through – all four fingers! This KitKat has passed into Jane’s personal mythology (some of you may have heard her speak about it on the international conference circuit).

Now we can reveal the genetic link between Bar Six, KitKat and Kinder and the Davis family. One of Jane’s close family members has now discovered a Kinder Surprise egg with a double shell. Chocolate mysteries, sweet signs and wonders.