“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

D’s Reader Story

MRL_5280The Reader Organisation runs weekly shared reading groups in the South West of England, with a particular focus on improving health and stimulating wellbeing through shared reading. We currently work in Cornwall, Plymouth, Wiltshire and Devon within libraries and community centres, helping to stimulate memories for people with memory loss and encouraging a greater sense of wellbeing with our Feel Better with a Book groups. In particular, shared reading has been commissioned for recovery pathways across the area, with it being one way of contribution to promoting good health for people of all ages and backgrounds at all stages in life.

Recently, one of our long term group members in Exmouth told us about how the shared reading sessions they are attending on a regular basis coupled with other measures is contributing to their continued road to recovery in their personal mental health. D tells us more about their own experiences of shared reading below:

Quite simply I am beginning to open my eyes as if in a coma for over forty years.  Like a person who is discovering his senses I am becoming aware of the wonders of existence that I once took for granted,  but that was cruelly snatched from me by adverse circumstances.  A blind man who can suddenly see is much more thankful for the miracle of sight and appreciates everything that much more;  so it is with me.

The part you are playing in this transformation is that I picked up a book  (I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai  –  which seems appropriate) and for the first time for a lengthy period of time began reading,  with an awakened thirst for knowledge,  enthusiasm,  and much anticipated interest;  something I have not done till pre-breakdown times,  stretching back to 1972.  This might seem like an ordinary event but it makes a significant benchmark in my progress back to health.

Your encouragement  has inspired me to voluntarily pick up a book (which I have found impossible to do for a long time) and has renewed in me the urge to resume the old habit of reading.  I was once an avid reader but my brain just shut down on the advent of the illness.  I am once again discovering the joy of settling down to a good read.  All this might appear trivial,  but I thank you for instilling into me hope and making the impossible a real possibility.

We wish D all the best on their continued journey and discovery of a reinvigorated love of literature.

If you would like to find out more about our work in the South West, including the open community groups we currently run across the area, please see our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/where-we-work/south-west or contact The Reader Organisation’s South West Development Manager Jennifer McDerra: jennifermcderra@thereader.org.uk

You can also follow our team in the South West for the latest updates on their Twitter account: @TheReaderSW

Discover more of our Readers Stories sharing their experiences of shared reading from across the UK on our website:  http://www.thereader.org.uk/reader-stories


Better with a Book: One week to go!

_O7J3781 There’s just one week to go until we head to the British Library Conference Centre in London for Better with a Book, The Reader Organisation’s National Conference 2014. Delegates from across the UK will be joining us for the day to explore the relationship between literature, mental health, education, increased social engagement, enhanced emotional development and improved quality of life, and it’s promising to be the most enriching Conference to date with a wonderful line-up of guest speakers on the bill.

Better with a Book will be examining how the practice of shared reading makes people from all walks of life, ages and backgrounds feel fundamentally better – from young people reading for pleasure in schools to literature being a way in to people within a variety of secure settings. What is it about reading, and specifically reading aloud with other people, that creates such positive impacts upon our lives?

The day will begin with an introduction by TRO Founder and Director Jane Davis, leading on to a panel discussion with Baroness Estelle Morris and Dr Alice Sullivan. Amongst them they will be unravelling the relationship between reading, emotional wellbeing and educational attainment, following findings of a study by the Institute of Education – of which Dr Sullivan was a co-author – which found that children who read for pleasure do significantly better at school in a range of subjects, including maths as well as spelling and vocabulary.

Also in the morning there’ll be the chance to Meet Our Readers as we talk to four of our regular shared reading group members from London and elsewhere around the country about how their lives have been improved by joining a group in a hospital or the community. They’ll be telling us more about their personal experiences of shared reading and the varied impacts literature has had upon them.

_O7J4023After lunch, there will be four Breakout sessions available to attend, including a discussion of how shared reading is working practically in Psychologically Informed Planned Environments (PIPEs), a panel of commissioners who will talk about what working with The Reader Organisation has brought to them and an examination of the latest ongoing research into the cultural value of shared reading by the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems at University of Liverpool.

Reading in secure environments is a significant area of our work, and Lord Alan Howarth will be chairing a discussion between Nick Benefield, previous Joint Head of the NHS and National Offender Management Service Offender Personality Disorder Implementation Programme, and Megg Hewlett, Reader-inResidence at West London Mental Health Trust, about shared reading as a therapeutic intervention in secure environments.

Rounding off the day, Jane will be in discussion with writer, author, broadcaster and former President of MIND Lord Melvyn Bragg who will talk about his life as a reader and his novel Grace and Mary, which is based on his experiences of living with a relative with dementia.

All this as well as a chance to experience shared reading firsthand in some special sessions – it’s going to be a truly stimulating day enjoying great literature and the positive effects it can bring.

There are still a last few places available to join us for Better with a Book – all the information on how to book can be found on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/events/conference

We look forward to seeing you in London!

An Evaluation of a Literature Based Intervention for People with Chronic Pain

chronic pain study 1 72dpiThe latest research into the effects shared reading is having as a non-medical, literature based intervention into health conditions has been published by The Reader Organisation and research partners.

The study, carried out by a partnership between the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS) at University of Liverpool and The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen NHS Hospital Trust, investigates the impact of shared reading for people living with chronic pain when delivered in a clinical setting. As part of the research, The Reader Organisation held a regular shared reading group at Broadgreen Hospital for patients with chronic pain who had been recruited from pain clinics around the Trust.

Intital results from the study, which was examined in a seminar at last year’s National Conference, have proved to show positive impacts in the relationship between shared reading, alleviation of pain symptoms and improved psychological wellbeing, with factors such as absorbed concentration upon the literature, a sense of community, comradeship and social connections being established and an enhanced quality of life all emerging for patients taking part in the group. The study follows previous research from CRILS which focused upon shared reading in relation to mental health conditions and is the first time data has been collected on physical health and a literature-based intervention.

People living with chronic pain have three times the average risk of developing psychiatric symptoms such as mood or anxiety disorders, and in turn depressed patients have three times the average risk of developing chronic pain. One of the contributing researchers, Dr Andrew Jones from Broadgreen Hospital, commented that the study gave a positive indication for patients with chronic pain:

“Early indications are showing that the reading group is making a difference to people in our hospital. But there is something intangible, a deeper impact beyond that, which we can’t measure using existing qualitative research methods. While there is already evidence of the mental health benefits of shared reading, little is known about the benefits for physical health, but the link between chronic pain and psychiatric symptoms indicate it could help.”

The study contains several first-hand accounts from patients who took part, talking about their experiences of attending the group:

“It’s my little island…a safe haven…it’s very informal and comfortable”

“I don’t have pain when we are discussing or reading the story…the whole thing is read out and I don’t have any pain.”

“I’ve really, really got to concentrate…and that’s what it makes me do. It makes me concentrate and listen.”

Though more research is needed into exploring the relationship between chronic pain, reduced symptoms and a shared reading intervention, this initial study gives positive indication that further work can be established and could be extended to dialysis wards and other areas of physical health at Broadgreen and the Royal Hospitals. The shared reading group set up for the study at Broadgreen proved so popular that The Reader Organisation has been commissioned to run sessions there for the next three years.

‘An Evaluation of a Literature Based Intervention for People with Chronic Pain’ is now available to download on our website, where more can be found out about our research projects with CRILS: http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/research

CRILS will be at Better with a Book, The Reader Organisation’s National Conference 2014, examining footage of shared reading groups in action as part of their AHRC funded research project on the cultural value of shared reading as opposed to other cultural activities. Places are still available for you to hear more about the relationship between literature, shared reading and its effects on individuals, communities and organisations at The British Library Conference Centre on Thursday 15th May: http://www.thereader.org.uk/events/conference

“It’s unbelievably moving and a real joy”: Shared reading and volunteering in Wiltshire

reading 1Since January this year, The Reader Organisation have been running weekly Library Memory Groups in libraries across Wiltshire. Funded by Wiltshire Council and NHS Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group, Library Memory Groups provide a stimulating environment where people with memory loss and those who care for them meet weekly to connect with each other through shared reading. Within the short space of time they have been set up the groups have proved popular, attracting coverage from BBC Radio Wiltshire and Wiltshire Times.

As the project continues, we are looking for volunteers to become Assistant Group Facilitators in our Library Memory Groups in Mere, Pewsey, Purton and Warminster Libraries.This opportunity will give you the chance to make a difference to the lives of people with memory loss, and to become part of The Reader Organisation in the South West, receiving fully funded training and the chance to go on to complete our revolutionary Read to Lead training free of charge. For a short amount of time – one and a half hours a week – you will help to make a significant impact within the community, as well as enjoying literature from a fresh and emotionally stimulating perspective.

Current South West volunteer Justine Wall volunteers at our Library Memory Group at Warminster Library on Wednesdays, 11.30am-1pm. Here, she shares her story of why reading – and particularly reading with people with memory loss – is so important to her:

My background is in English teaching, secondary trained, and I do love books. In particular, working with people with memory loss with reading is what I wanted to do because I believe in that pure, simple pleasure of reading. I also think that it’s something that’s taken away with a lot of other support groups that can happen for people with memory loss – literature can be forgotten, and so for me that was really important to see, that we celebrated it again.

The reading is of paramount importance, and what I enjoy is seeing the reaction of people. I thought it would be beneficial and I thought I would see it; what I wasn’t prepared for was the extent to which it happens; it is unbelievably moving and it is a real joy. We all seem to know that this is a safe place as well; that everybody can share things and emotions and memories.

Being in the group has taught me to put the analytical and critical side of myself aside sometimes and simply look at the text for enjoyment and a nudge for memory and nostalgia, which is a lot more important. It’s very interesting to have memories that people speak about but we root it all in the text. I also enjoy the calmness that comes from reading the text at a slower pace, it’s lovely.

I would encourage anybody who’s the slightest bit interest to get involved because it’s incredibly manageable; I’m here for an hour and a half, there’s a variety of libraries to choose from that people can take part in, and to see the effect it has on other people and on oneself is worth it.

Read more from Justine on her experience of shared reading and volunteering with TRO on her blog: http://www.hectorandhaddock.com/blogs/news/12524869-read-to-me

If you have excellent literacy and comprehension, are good at reading aloud or willing to learn to improve your skills, have the ability to manage group dynamics and a desire to relate to people in an open and human way, you could become a Volunteer Assistant Group Facilitator with us in Wiltshire. We ask for a one year commitment but the opportunity is ongoing and can last for as long as you and your group want it to, and The Reader Organisation will give full support.

For more information on volunteering with us in Wiltshire, please contact Josephine Corcoran: josephinecorcoran@thereader.org.uk or call 07812 238503, and see our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/south-west

Library Memory Groups in Wiltshire currently run on Wednesdays (Warminster and Mere) and Thursdays (Purton and Pewsey), for full details of groups in the South West, visit our Reading With Us group map on our website.

We ask for a one year commitment but the opportunity is ongoing and can last for as long as you and your group want it to – See more at: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/south-west.aspx#sthash.ToU6IHbB.dpuf
This opportunity will give you the chance to make a difference to the lives of people with memory loss, and to become part of The Reader Organisation in the South West, receiving fully funded training. – See more at: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/south-west.aspx#sthash.xsaEYXmr.dpuf
Funded by Wiltshire Council and NHS Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group and run by The Reader Organisation, Library Memory Groups to provide a stimulating environment where people with memory loss and those who care for them meet weekly to connect with each other through shared reading. – See more at: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/south-west.aspx#sthash.xsaEYXmr.dpuf
Funded by Wiltshire Council and NHS Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group and run by The Reader Organisation, Library Memory Groups to provide a stimulating environment where people with memory loss and those who care for them meet weekly to connect with each other through shared reading. – See more at: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/south-west.aspx#sthash.xsaEYXmr.dpuf

Volunteering with The Reader Organisation: Jennifer and Ginette’s Story

The Reader Organisation’s volunteering projects in Barnet are growing, with two new projects to spread shared reading across the area. Reading for the Brain will recruit and train volunteer facilitators to read with people living with dementia and their carers, and Altogether Better is a community project which aims to bring generations together through shared reading.

Shared reading has already been having an effect throughout Barnet, bringing communities and families closer together and igniting a deeper love of literature. Volunteer facilitator Jennifer shares her story of getting involved with the Barnet project, with her nan Ginette discovering shared reading too:

‘Make friends with a book: Get Into Reading groups give you a place to relax, a chance to make new friends and a new way to share reading with others every week. You can drop in and sit down, there’s no pressure to talk, read or even drink tea.”

The invitation sits pinned by the kitchen radio and has been there since September 2011.

I live with my grandmother. She is in her late seventies, she doesn’t like groups or socialising and at the time was suffering from depression. I suggested she went along to the reading group with a hope that she might actually enjoy it. For the few weeks leading up to the group I would occasionally bring it up.

‘So, Nanny, what do you think?’ I said, picking up the invitation. ‘It’s just around the corner.’ ‘You like reading.’ ‘It will be good for you to get out of the house.’ ‘You like tea.’ ‘I bet everyone who looked at the invitation twice is thinking the same as you.’ ‘You don’t even have to stay! Look, it says on the invitation ‘no pressure.’

‘I’ll see how I feel,’ she would say.

I came home one evening to find a two poems and a short story on the kitchen table.

‘I went to the book club today.’

I asked how it was.

‘Actually I quite enjoyed it. It was quite a surprise. I didn’t feel uncomfortable. Maybe because we were all new but I am amazed at what people are prepared to share about themselves.’

I would come home from work on a Monday and read the copies of the poems and short stories from her group and we would talk about them. She would tell me what others had said and I would read and see if I agreed or if I thought it meant something else. It could go on all evening. This happened for months. I even went along to the group on a few of my days off and I was surprised at how much I wanted to share my opinion about the literature. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

I got a new job with Jewish Care as an Activity Organiser in a residential care home. I thought it would be nice to have a reading group at Clore Manor, the home I was working at. I had been to a few of Nanny’s groups by then and it was simple; read and discuss.

I took one of Nanny’s poems from the reading group and made copies. I rounded up my most verbal residents and for a tremendously struggling 15 minutes, I tried to re-create the groups I had been to. It was so difficult I gave up and never tried again.

In July 2013 I was introduced to Paul Higgins to discuss the prospect of establishing a reading group at Clore Manor. I told him about my terrible tale and we realised that Paul was the man responsible for establishing Nanny’s reading group. I was chosen to attend the three days Read to Lead training to be able to become a shared reading facilitator. The training was brilliant. I realised there was so much more to becoming a facilitator than I had ever imagined. It wasn’t just ‘read and discuss’ at all.

The training was professional and insightful and I have now been co-facilitating a reading group for residents with dementia at Clore Manor since October 2013 along with Liz Kon who was the volunteer facilitator at my nan’s group previously.

I look forward to the group every Wednesday and sharing the role and having someone always on hand to offer guidance and support is invaluable. The residents always say they have enjoyed it and I am pleased to say the group is going from strength to strength. Paul is also always contactable and the monthly facilitators meetings are really helpful.

I think the best thing about becoming a shared reading facilitator is mastering the skill of asking the right questions. And also how to cut people off graciously during mid-conversation. I rarely have to use it in the group but it comes in handy in other places.

Ginette, Jennifer’s grandmother:

I attend the group at Cheshire Hall on Mondays, 1.30-3.30pm. When we read sections of a book or read a poem it is fascinating how different each of us is in the group feels about what we have read. There are usually five or six of us ranging in ages from late twenties through to pensioners.

Over time we have overcome retinence to express our opinions and share our feelings and experiences. It is amazing how a few words can evoke memories, some sad, some happy. As we all get along well despite our differences it is not difficult to share our thoughts.

Monday is a day with a difference. For a short time we can relax and think of other than the normal day to day occurances, talk freely, enjoy the company of people with similar interests and have a cup of tea provided cheerfully by the facilitators. Finding it easy to express my feelings at the book club has given me the confidence to do so in other settings. And I find by doing so, other people are more willing to do so.

We are looking to recruit volunteers for both of our expanded Barnet volunteering projects. For more information on the opportunities, contact Paul Higgins on  paulhiggins@thereader.org.uk or call 07985 718744. You can also see our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/barnet

Reading for the Brain: Volunteering for The Reader Organisation in Barnet

“I wholeheartedly recommend the experience of being a volunteer with The Reader Organisation – if you are willing to commit the time, to understand and engage with the way TRO works, then it is a hugely rewarding and exciting project” – Current Volunteer Facilitator, Barnet

Since 2012, The Reader Organisation has developed volunteering opportunities in Barnet as part of our work in London. Volunteers across the region have been recruited, trained and supported to assist within and run shared reading groups within the community, bringing literature to more people within the capital. We have worked with organisations including Age UK and Jewish Care to run groups for residents and members of day centres, as well as groups and one-on-one sessions specifically for people living with dementia and their carers.

We can announce that our current volunteering opportunities in Barnet are expanding to include two new projects, Altogether Better – an intergenerational community reading project – and Reading for the Brain – a project  for people living with dementia and their carers, building on our existing work with Jewish Care. We are looking for volunteers for both of these projects as they are launched, seeking volunteers to facilitate shared reading groups for Older People with Dementia and their carers, both in care and day settings. We are also looking for volunteers to lead groups for the whole population in  care homes, day centres and also to the wider community in Barnet.

These exciting and fulfilling opportunities are open to anyone who meets the following requirements:

  • Good basic literacy and comprehension, able to read aloud – or learn to – with a genuine interest in reading and a willingness and motivation to expand this interest
  • A spirit of enquiry and an ability to facilitate conversation with people that is related to the text (this is different to ‘having’ a conversation)
  • An ability to manage group dynamics with an openness to people and a desire to be with people in a human way, and put the needs of the group and the story ahead of their own interests
  • A commitment to ongoing training and development

Volunteers running weekly shared read aloud reading groups will work in pairs. Successful applicants will receive training and on going support from The Reader Organisation and would be making a long term commitment to The Reader Organisation and their community.

One of our volunteers working in Rubens House Care Home running a shared reading group for people with dementia recounts her experience of being a volunteer facilitator:

“[The residents] genuinely seem to enjoy our sessions and usually thank us at the end and say that they enjoyed it. A care worker told us that one of the ladies has become much more friendly towards other people in the home since she has been coming to the group.

Sometimes relatives of the attendees sit in with the group and they remark on how good it is to see their family members participating in an activity which stimulates their memory.

It has been a very enjoyable experience for me as well. It is good to know that you can still be useful in your seventies and contribute to the welfare of others. I frequently leave the Get into Reading sessions on a ‘high’.They are a delightful group to work with and I feel privileged to be able to bring some pleasure into their lives. I have also rediscovered poetry for myself.”

We are now actively recruiting for volunteers for the Reading for the Brain project in Barnet.  For further details please contact Paul Higgins at paulhiggins@thereader.org.uk or call 07985 718744

Find out more about our volunteering opportunities across the country on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering

Shad’s Reader Story

Shad has been coming to Book Break, one of our shared reading groups, for two years. He is Kurdish, originally from the north of Iraq.
This is Shad’s story, in his own words.

I’m very ill, sleeping all day if there is nothing to go to. I get up for the group because it is something to get up for.

My childhood, my problem started when I was four or five years old.  I stayed away from groups. Coming to this country was not easy, it was completely different.  Book Break is the first group I have been to in my whole life!  I was talking to my occupational therapist and he said “We have a Book Break”. I like reading; it is a hobby, I like education and to study.  I enjoyed reading as a kid.  That was my enjoyment as a child.  I wanted to know things.  In my country I was reading Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Shakespeare but in Arabic.  I’d been trying since I came here to the UK.  Before Book Break I’d spend three hours in the library and buying books but I can’t concentrate reading by myself. I still can’t read by myself and enjoy it and keep going.  I can’t concentrate.  I believe I was losing my memory.  I can’t remember the story.

At Book Break when someone starts talking (about what we read last week) then my memory comes back, like a flashback.  I have it. It triggers, I remember.

We read it slowly so even if I can’t get the words or the meaning, I get a sense of it and when we stop reading I can ask the English word.  Then when I go home I find it on google.

It’s getting my confidence back that I can read stories again. I lost trust to be with people or put my opinion. I lost confidence. But here in Book Break I can discuss difficult things and people still welcome me back.  That was missing in my life, even in my family.

Book Break is like you say whatever you are going to say. It’s really friendly. Book Break is like a perfect family. Different ages, male and female, we all still talk and discuss.  I can’t believe this kind of group exists. I feel it’s like a true family. It’s hard for me to feel comfortable and relaxed after all I’ve been through.

Since 2005 the furthest area I went to was near my house. I came to Waterloo Station for the Book Break Christmas party which was really big for me. It gave me confidence and hope. I looked at the faces – we all looked like we’d been lost and found each other through Book Break. It linked me.  I thought, “They are like me, they like novels, they like stories.”

I’ve been told to go to many groups but I couldn’t find myself there. I feel sick going to interviews.  Book Break is the only group I come to voluntarily.  I love it. If I’m not well I can come back as if I hadn’t missed. People are welcoming.

Usually in a group when I try and talk about what I’ve been through it feels wrong and I don’t feel I can talk about it or go back. Here at Book Break, through the stories, I feel I can talk and I feel really good, not bad.  And I feel a relief. This is what happens through the stories. Comparing myself with the stories, this helps me. It gives me hope.

I tried to end my life because I found no hope or where I belonged or who I could trust or who I could talk to. In this group it’s about the books and discussing things that happened to us. And listening to other people’s stories, it’s not just me, it gives me hope.

In the street people don’t talk about what’s happened to them. But in the group we talk about what’s happened to us. We can help each other. Trust is there. I helped another group member with the puncture on her car and she thanked me. Book Break feels safe.

I want people to know my story to encourage other people.

Find out more about the impact of shared reading and how you can get involved.

The Reader Organisation’s Annual Report 2012/13

annual report 201213The Reader Organisation’s Annual Report for 2012/13 is available to read and download now on our website. Covering our activities and achievements from April 2012-March 2013, it’s full of headlines, highlights and Reader Stories from our work across the UK and beyond.

As we continue to develop our vision for the International Centre for Reading and Wellbeing at Calderstones Mansion House, our Annual Report 2012/13 showcases how far shared reading has come in the past 10 years, growing from its home in Wirral to reach across Liverpool and the wider North West region, London, South West and Scotland. The connection that comes from shared reading is now being felt in a number of varied settings, ranging from within the community to Criminal Justice settings to the corporate sector. Thanks to growing support we have been able to expand our activities to include a pioneering Volunteer programme across Merseyside, increased learning opportunities and publications offering what is at the heart of everything we do – great literature.

Looking through the report gives us much to reflect on, but undoubtedly the most powerful testimonies come from our Readers themselves, some of whom joined us at our AGM last November – the first to be held at Calderstones Mansion House.

“If you don’t talk about them and hear yourself speaking about it, it will stay in your head and you can’t get to a resolution. In the reading group we talk about things that people don’t usually talk about.” – G, shared reading group member, London

As we enter a 2014 with many exciting things in store for the reading revolution, it’s well worth taking a look at the strides that have been made so far.

You can read through or alternatively download The Reader Organisation’s Annual Report 2012/13 on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/who-we-are/annual-report.aspx

The Big Give Christmas Challenge: How your donations will help

The-Big-Give-Christmas-Challenge-2013The Reader Organisation is part of The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2013. From today, 5th December to Saturday 7th September, if you donate to TRO through our profile on The Big Give website there’s the chance that the donation will be doubled by match funding from The Garfield Weston Foundation. Donate online by clicking the ‘Donate Online Now’ button as close as possible to 10am today, Friday and Saturday to increase the chance of your donation being doubled, helping us to reach more people through shared reading.

The money we hope to raise via The Big Give Christmas Challenge will be used to appoint a new Project Worker who will share reading with some of the most vulnerable people in society. On a weekly basis we reach groups who are in need of the comfort, companionship and much more that great literature provides, including people at risk of or experiencing social isolation, looked-after children in foster care and those living with dementia.

Our evaluation statistics show the difference shared reading is making to these groups:

  • 86% of readers in dementia care home settings were reported to be less agitated and had improved mood following shared reading sessions
  • 100% of the looked-after children we read with one-to-one told us they enjoyed reading books they wouldn’t have chosen themselves, and that they enjoyed discussing their ideas and opinions

dementia£20,000 will allow us to employ a Project Worker who will work with 200 vulnerable people, extending the positive effects of shared reading and making a huge difference to many lives.

Here is just one example of the people we read with on a daily basis – your donations could help us to bring more of these stories to life:

Matthew has early on-set dementia and is much younger than most of the other patients on the ward. He rarely interacts with the other people and appears quite isolated and depressed, talking only in monosyllables and taking a long time to respond to questions. His speech seems slow and impaired: he struggles not only to find words to be able to express himself but also to find the will or desire to make such acts of communication in the first place.

I noticed during a session that centred upon an extract about summer-time from Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie that Matthew seemed to be looking about him more than usual and to be listening attentively to what was being discussed by the other group- members. I asked him what he’d like to eat during a hot day in summer. He replied in a single word – ‘Fruit’. I asked him what kind of fruit. He said ‘Apples, oranges.’ This response was quite a breakthrough for Matthew.

On that basis I risked asking him if he’d like to re-read a poem I’d just read to the group.At the end of his reading I thanked Matthew for reading and remarked that he had a wonderful reading voice. He smiled and said, ‘Thank you for saying so.’ The group moved on to talk a bit about the poem, but at the end of the session I came back to Matthew and asked him if he had enjoyed the session. Once again he took several moments to respond and then answer, reverting somewhat to his slower voice but this time managing to articulate himself in full. He said, ‘Yeah. It was elevating.’”

Another one of our readers said: “You have given me my youth back”

Any size donation you can give would be hugely appreciated to help us continue making these moments happen. As there are limited funds available as part of The Big Give Challenge, be sure to donate as near as possible to 10am for the chance of your donation being doubled by match funding. Click the ‘Donate Online Now’ button on our Big Give profile or click here go directly to the donation form.