‘Shakespeare continues to be a touchstone’: Obama Shares Reading

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As he kicks back to catch up on his reading list, we reflect how former United States President Barack Obama’s love of books influenced his life.

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Launch of Shared Reading in Germany at the Leipzig Book Fair

We are delighted that Thomas Böhm and Carsten Sommerfeldt of Böhm & Sommerfeldt: Literarische Unternehmungen (Literary Ventures) are launching Shared Reading in Germany as we speak at the Leipzig Book Fair (17 – 20 March).

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Shared Reading: a secular church?

From Robert Lyon, Communications Intern

Prayer, the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet, sounding heaven and earth;

Prayer, George Herbert

Here at The Reader we have developed a Shared Reading model that brings people together, creates community and builds confidence and trust through reading aloud. The creative and essentially human aspects of short stories and poetry are the vehicle we use to explore important issues and draw out the experiences and beliefs of our readers. Even when phrased in this way many may be surprised to learn that The Reader has been mentioned in the same breath as a religious body.

Casper ter Kuile is a trainee minister for non-religious people and in a recent article for The Huffington Post Is the Church of England Fit for Purpose he discusses the potential failings of the modern Church of England. After identifying a growing gap between the public and the Anglican Church Body he suggests the church still has much to offer but he seeks to imagine ‘‘articulating the purpose of the church differently’’. It is here that Kuile draws attention to The Reader as one of the organisations which is helping to build communities of belonging and make meaning in our lives.

While The Reader has no religious agenda there are parallels to be drawn between what happens in Shared Reading and within communities that meet within the Church. In the reading groups our readers can feel a sense of community, where friends are made and support can be found. At The Reader we believe in the power of poetry and literature which can remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

It is a pleasure to be mentioned in Casper’s article, especially in conjunction with other meaningful projects.

There is a great opportunity to hear more about the relationship between reading and belief as we look towards Easter. In partnership with The Reader, Wednesday 2nd March will see author, screenwriter and our patron Frank Cottrell Boyce appear as part of Liverpool Parish Church‘s Lent Talks. Frank will be talking about his award-winning book The Unforgotten Coat – written especially for The Reader’s Our Read campaign in 2011. The book, described by Frank as ‘home-made’, could not be more timely given the context of the ongoing refugee and migration crisis in Europe.

Tickets for the Lent Talk at Our Lady & St Nicholas Church this coming Wednesday starting at 6.15pm are free but can be registered online now.

Sharing reading across South London

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Shared reading in South London (credit: Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity)

“I do feel relaxed when I go back home, because I talked about something, an experience that happened way back. As you share it with others, you relive it – so clearly!” – shared reading group member, South London project

Since 2013, The Reader Organisation has been developing a Reading for Wellbeing project across South London, setting up and training volunteers to run shared reading groups all with the purpose of helping to improve the health and wellbeing of over 1,700 people living in the boroughs of Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham and Croydon. The project was made possible thanks to a three-year funding bid by the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and the Maudsley Charity, and has so far seen a total of over 70 groups meeting in a variety of settings, including libraries, health and community centres, schools – and even Tower Bridge!

We’ve been reaching people of all ages, backgrounds and life situations, using great literature on a weekly basis to help improve confidence, create social networks, widen perspectives and offer a sense of belonging to those who have become especially isolated. In some cases, the reading shared has become a preventative tool for people at risk of poor health, with regular attendance at groups aiming to reduce the need to visiting a GP.

Recently Nicola Crane, Head of Arts Strategy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, visited one of the groups within the South London project to get a sense of how shared reading is working first-hand:

“As the group gets under the skin of ‘Silas Marner’ by George Eliot, the session facilitator, Val, pauses at intervals to reflect on what’s being read and prompt conversations across the table.

I can see pretty quickly why the set-up works. This group is hosted in the welcoming environment of a public library. As people gather and the reading starts, an inviting, non-judgemental atmosphere wraps around them, gathered in a corner of the library, like a protective shield. However, the true value of these encounters is in the power of the shared reading. By deconstructing the joys and perils of the fictional characters, real-life stories start to emerge around the table.

Some, like Uzonna, a retired mental health nurse, remembers passages of her life as a young girl growing up in Nigeria. Others like Maria, who was referred to the group through Lambeth Hospital, enjoys the sharing of “different opinions” and how they “tend to agree at the end”. Hazel enjoys meeting all sorts of different people she wouldn’t normally. Since joining, she and others enjoy the group so much they have swapped the computer lessons they used to attend at the library for this weekly reading gathering.

I left the session feeling revitalised, having reconnected with a piece of literature I read long ago and sharing it with a unique set of people. It was eye-opening to see a group of starkly different individuals loyal to their shared weekly dose of prose, easily drawing similarities between the tribulations of a 19th century weaver and their own with cathartic effect.”

Read Nicola’s blog in full on the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity website.

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(credit: Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity)

Thanks to the funding from GSTTC and the Maudsley Charity, we have been able to ensure a lasting legacy of the positive wellbeing effects of shared reading in South London. To date, over 30 groups have been taken over by trained volunteers and are proving to be sustainable, with more training planned for the future. The project also includes an ongoing research investigation which will help to determine the impact of the shared reading model on such a wide spectrum of the population at whole.

Here’s to even more shared reading across South London!

Reading for the ages – and sexes

tinyreadsAhead of World Book Day, some recent surveys have revealed some interesting findings on reading amongst the generations and genders.

To celebrate the day dedicated to children’s reading, Sainsbury’s carried out a survey amongst 2,000 people to compile a list of 50 ultimate books that make up a child’s catalogue of reading. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory topped the poll, followed closely by Alice in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Roald Dahl proves to be a popular choice for kids and adults alike with four of his other works appearing in the list, and while contemporary titles such as the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series make appearances there’s a strong nostalgic flavour to much of the list that indicates that parents are choosing to share their own favourite stories from childhood with their children, passing on a love for classic tales through to the next generation.

We especially loved the finding from the survey that nearly three quarters of parents questioned believed that bedtime reading is one of the most important ways to bond with their children.

Read the full list of the 50 books every child should read before they’re 16 here

Yet even though many boys and girls read the same titles at a young age, growing older seems to set a distinction in the types of books the sexes favour. The Nielsen Bookscan Books and Consumer Survey 2015 shows that although nearly half of all books bought last year were for males, only 39% of adult fiction books were specifically targeted towards men – reinforcing the idea that men favour the factual in their reading, whether it be about politics, history or hobbies.

man readingTelegraph Men have asked whether men have fallen out of love with books in a world where thinking and feeling in-depth about emotions is still viewed as part of the female domain and instances of depression, anxiety and loneliness amongst men is on the rise. In our shared reading groups, great literature is open to everyone – male and female, young or older. The texts we read, from classics by Dickens and Eliot to contemporary short stories, create a safe space where emotional matters can be explored but the literature itself is always at the centre.

We welcome along lots of male readers to our weekly groups, some who have rediscovered reading after years. They may come to while away an hour and a half, but often find there’s much more to the groups than meets the eye:

“It’s done me a lot of good. It’s all right going the pub and having a laugh with your mates but sometimes you’ve got to, y’know, enrich your soul. I don’t sleep well at the best of times but this helps me relax. It’s a lot better than taking a Prozac!” – one of our shared reading group members

Following up from the article, The Telegraph has come up with a list of 19 books that make good reading for men, including Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe.

“It has confirmed for me that I am as good as anyone else…I am becoming the man I should have been.”- see how literature and shared reading can make an impact on male readers by taking a look at our Reader Stories

Give City of Readers 5 – and some exciting news at Calderstones

Reading is becoming big news in Liverpool as there are some exciting plans afoot to ensure that generations can engage with literature for years to come.

Our friends at City of Readers have been hard at work over the past few months gathering support from individuals and organisations across the city for their Give Us 5 campaign. Frank Cottrell Boyce, Liverpool Echo and Baltic Creative have been amongst those who have lent their support to turn Liverpool into the UK’s foremost reading city over the past year, and thanks to a very special campaign video even more people are on board. The brilliant Jack-All Productions have been busy putting together the video, featuring the Royal Liverpool Hospital, National Museums Liverpool, Whitefield Primary School, BBC Radio Merseyside and local poet Levi Tafari, who are all encouraging everyone around Liverpool to give 5 for reading. The video was launched at Blackburne House in Liverpool last week, along with a special CPD event with The Reader Organisation’s founder Jane Davis and Frank Cottrell Boyce giving a rundown of their favourite books to read for pleasure with children.

Take a look at the video below, and find out more about how you can get involved with giving 5 for reading on the City of Readers website: http://cityofreaders.org/

There was also some wonderful news for our continued redevelopment at Calderstones Mansion as we received funding from the Social Investment Business for The Story Barn at Calderstones. The Grade 2 listed Barn and Stable area of the Mansion will be transformed to become an interactive Story Barn, bringing literature to life and encouraging reading for pleasure amongst young people and the wider community within the heart of Calderstones. Exhibitions from children’s authors and illustrators will feature alongside a permanent interactive space which will allow children and families to explore, play and interact with literary adventures as well as the nature of the park surrounding. With our weekly shared reading groups for children already successful, the Story Barn will be an important cornerstone in continuing to create a love of reading in future generations and the creation of making Calderstones Mansion House an International Centre of Reading.

We’re proud to be part of regeneration in Liverpool alongside an initiative from Squash Nutrition which also received funding to develop Toxteth Food Central. You can read more about the fantastic news here: http://www.liverpoolexpress.co.uk/funding-secured-two-major-social-projects/

Allerton Oak shortlisted for England’s Tree of the Year

AllertonOakAs the leaves are cascading, it’s a time to take notice of the trees lining the streets and scenery around us – and there’s exciting news as one of Liverpool’s most famed trees has been shortlisted to become England’s Tree of the Year.

The Allerton Oak – Calderstones Park’s star attraction – has made the list of ten shortlisted trees, whittled down from over 200 nominations.  The first England’s Tree of the Year award has been organised by The Woodland Trust to recognise the cultural and ecological value of England’s countryside, as well as to discover which is the most unique and well-loved of the country’s trees.

The list contains trees steeped in all kinds of history and heritage, including one where the Magna Carta was thought to have been signed and the inspiration for Newton’s discovery on his theory of gravity. The Allerton Oak itself has many stories to tell, with its fables famous across the city. It is believed to have stood in Calderstones Park for over a thousand years, though in fact it is probably nearer to being 800 years old, and was the meeting place of The Hundred Court of Liverpool, in the absence of a court being available.

The Allerton Oak has also weathered destruction – some of its branches are missing and propped due to damage caused by the explosion of a gunpowder ship called the Lottie Sleigh in the River Mersey, which split the tree in half – and was also incorporated into keeping the spirit up during WWII, when leaves from the tree were pressed and included in Christmas cards sent to members of the park’s staff who were serving in the forces.

The title of England’s Tree of the Year will be decided by an online public vote, closing on Tuesday 4th November. The winner will go on to represent the country in the 2015 European Tree of the Year contest.

Head to The Woodland Trust’s website to vote for The Allerton Oak: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/news/latest/england-toty/

And to inspire you further, here’s an ode to trees of all shapes and sizes:

Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer

Social Business Trust’s Social Impact Report 2014

PrintThe Social Business Trust (SBT) has published their latest Social Impact Report, outlining and quantifying the professional support it has offered to social enterprises across the country in the last financial year – of which The Reader Organisation was one beneficiary.

Utilising the commercial and industrial talents of a number of partners which include British Gas, Credit Suisse, EY and Thomson Reuters, SBT’s clear goal is to help transform the impact of social enterprises, meaning that more lives of the UK’s most disadvantaged people can be improved. It does this by pairing social enterprises which face challenges in scaling up their operations with specialist business expertise from its partners. Investment, whether it be in the transfer of knowledge, funding new resource or buying in new expertise to the organisation, takes a long-term view in order to help social enterprises grow.

For every £1 SBT receives as a cash donation, they invest £3 worth of grants and support in social enterprise projects, meaning that for every £100,000 donated, SBT on average grants £300,000 to social enterprises, and on average SBT’s portfolio enterprises have doubled their number of beneficiaries over the past two years. The Social Impact Report includes some impressive statistics: £3m worth of financial and professional support was invested by SBT in projects in 2013/14, with 144 volunteers engaged.

The Reader Organisation began working with SBT in mid-2013, with SBT investing £280,000 to help us reach and connect more people with great literature through the shared reading model. The support received from SBT has enabled us to grow in the areas of sales strategy, proposition development, impact measurement and strategic planning, and has allowed us to take two new members of staff on board – as well as reach over 13,000 beneficiaries.

You can read more about our work with SBT, including the perspective of the volunteers from British Gas who worked with to give us specialist support we have previously not had access to, in the Social Impact Report 2014: http://www.socialbusinesstrust.org/about-us/social-impact-2014

 

Read On, Get On: Ensuring children can ‘read well’

read on get onAs the new school year is underway, news that as many as 1.5m UK children could leave primary school unable to read adequately by 2025 makes for unsettling reading.

Findings by Save The Children have discovered that illiteracy is a significant problem amongst the UK’s schoolchildren, with disadvantged children at most risk of being unable to read well by the time they leave primary school. Nearly half of all children from poorer backgrounds cannot read and understand books, newspapers and websites at age 11, and are the equivalent of seven years schooling behind stronger readers. The report also found that England is one of the most unequal countries for levels of reading attainment amongst children in the EU, coming second only to Romania.

To go some way to tackling this crisis, Save The Children are spearheading the Read On, Get On campaign to ensure that all children are able to read well and confidently when they leave primary school. The campaign is being supported by charities, publishers and educational organisations including the National Literacy Trust, Harper Collins and the National Association of Head Teachers, as well as public figures, celebrities and authors including Sir John Major, Michael Morpurgo and Helen Fielding, emphasising the importance of reading to social mobility and the future prosperity of the nation. We’re pleased that our home of Liverpool is setting the trend when it comes to getting children of all ages reading, and even more proud that City of Readers – a city-wide initative to encourage children and young people to read more, as well as everyone else – is supporting the Read On, Get On campaign, which pledges to unlock every child’s potential in life through reading, and reading well. You can add your support here: http://www.readongeton.org.uk/petition

Children at the City of Readers Launch c. Liverpool Echo
Children at the City of Readers Launch c. Liverpool Echo

The Reader Organsation has been working closely with City of Readers, a campaign for Liverpool Learning Partnership which aims to transform Liverpool into the UK’s foremost reading city, and specifically to develop a generation of young readers who will take the power of great books into the future. Taking Liverpool as an example, City of Readers is part of the nationwide drive to ensure that the chances of children everywhere are improved by increased and deeper engagement with reading.

City of Readers is partly a response to a report by Liverpool Education Commission which aims to raise standards in schools and narrow the attainment gap between different groups of children in the city, but also encourage and enthuse the future generation to read more for the pleasure of doing so. Children who read for pleasure not only think more creatively, but also make more progress in school subjects including maths, vocabulary and spelling, according to a study by the Institute of Education.

Not only is City of Readers working with schools on a range of projects designed to especially to improve the reading of children, there are also many ways in which parents, carers and families can be involved to make reading a part of every child’s life – we know that reading in the home is a crucial way of improving reading skills. Frank Cottrell Boyce is writing an exclusive online serial as part of ‘Give Us 5’ for City of Readers – a marvellous mystery for the whole family to enjoy – and there’ll be much more happening to promote reading in Liverpool for children and everyone as the project progresses.

We’re really glad to see the issue of reading amongst children and young people is being raised on a vast public scale, and happy that Liverpool is setting the agenda for the rest of the country.

Find out more about City of Readers on the website: http://cityofreaders.org/ and for more information about getting involved with the campaign, please contact emmamelling@thereader.org.uk

You can learn more about the Read On, Get On campaign and sign the petition to ensure every child born this year will be able to read well by 2025 here: http://www.readongeton.org.uk/petition

‘A life changing business’: Stephen Fry on reading aloud

dementia 2The art of reading aloud was explored by Stephen Fry in a fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4 yesterday – and Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation Jane Davis along with some of our Readers in Liverpool were featured speaking about the power and special quality of reading aloud.

In Greek and Roman times, reading silently was frowned upon – the skill of reading aloud was much prized amongst the finest in society and the Romans could even be described as the predecessors of shared reading, gathering to read aloud in groups. Fry’s English Delight took listeners on a journey through the history of reading aloud, which amongst other gems told us that for over a third of the 21 centuries that have passed reading aloud was the most common form of reading and that authors such as Tennyson, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen were particular fans of reading aloud: Austen would ‘road test’ the drafts of her novels, including Pride and Prejudice, by reading and having her family reading them aloud.

The Reader Organisation connects people with great literature and through reading aloud in our regular shared reading groups in the UK, and the programme visited us at one of our groups in Liverpool while they read Silas Marner by George Eliot. Readers including Damian, who went for years with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and Louise, who has Asperger’s syndrome, spoke about how reading aloud has affected them, using terms such as ‘addictive’ and referring to the stories and poems that are read as ‘a bright light shining in the darkness’. When the words of great writers are read aloud we are not only attuned to their beauty but are exposed to the value of great minds and thinking, which can act to make us emotionally stronger.

Woman laughing hystericallyThe question of whether people might be put off by the apparent performative nature of reading aloud is something dismissed in our shared reading groups, as the informal and relaxed atmosphere allows people to choose to read only if they want to, letting people be themselves. As Jane says, reading aloud is one of the most democratic forms of communication, with everybody able to get something out of it.

The programme also featured speakers including Professor John Mullan of University College, London, who provided insights into the greats of literature and their skills of reading aloud – giving even experts in the field something to learn. 10 year old Ben, who started and rounded off the programme, spoke about how he thinks it’s every parent’s duty to read aloud to their children – a reader to watch for the future! Stephen Fry himself was in praise of the art, saying:

“Reading aloud and being read to can be a deeply affecting, life changing business.”

With readers like Damian and Louise as well as many more benefitting from the power of reading aloud, we can attest to this.

If you missed the broadcast of Fry’s English Delight you can listen again on the website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04dk84m