From Book Break to Read to Lead: Jane’s Story

Last year, we featured the story of one of our shared reading group members in London, and how shared reading provided her with a ‘lifeboat’.  Jane, a regular reader in Kensington and Chelsea, joined us for our National Conference 2012 to give her perspective on how being part of a group made a difference to her life. More than a year on, we follow up her story as she embarks on the next step in her journey – becoming a shared reading practitioner.

Jane spoke to Megg Hewlett, one of our London Project Workers, about how far she has come:

Jane reading to an attentive audience at Baby Rhyme Time, Brompton Library
Jane reading to an attentive audience at Baby Rhyme Time, Brompton Library

For the last two years Book Break shared reading group member Jane has been volunteering at Brompton Library delivering their Baby Rhyme Time sessions on a Monday afternoon to between 30 and 50 people. It’s impossible not to be astonished by the gathering of littlies and their caregivers – mums, dads, grandparents and nannies – who gather for the session. Even the adults join in, delighting in the singing and actions that make up the half hour programme and the library vibrates with the sound of adult and children’s singing voices and laughter.

Four years ago Jane joined Book Break at Brompton Library. At the time, health difficulties had made her life a struggle. She loved her profession and working with children especially but after more than 20 years in early childhood education, a combination of factors meant she was could not work and her sense of loss was great. “Books and children had always played a huge part in my life and my work and my belief in myself was crushed.”

Jane attended Book Break every week. After a couple of years I spoke to Jane about the idea of volunteering in the library to do Baby Rhyme Time. Initially she thought there would be no way she could do it, but eventually after thinking it over she thought that maybe it was a possibility, after all, and she has been running the sessions ever since, spurred on by the personal benefits she found through shared reading.

“The confidence I found in Book Break was the thing that made me feel I could do the Baby Rhyme Time in the library. Even though attending Book Break and reading aloud in the group had boosted my confidence I was still very anxious and worried. It was a big thing to say ‘yes’ as I was still not feeling good about myself.

Once I started doing Baby Rhyme Time in the library, giving something to others made me feel much better about myself. And now, even if I do feel rubbish, I still can do it; the music is a bridge from me to the children. At the beginning of the year I moved to the other side of London so it’s quite a long journey to get here but I don’t want to stop; I enjoy it so much and the parents tell me they really appreciate it, they often thank me and it gives me a boost knowing they enjoy it and that I’m making a real contribution to other peoples lives. If I had not come to Book Break I would not be doing this now.”

Jane also volunteers at a Salvation Army lunch club for older people and each week takes the poems from Book Break to read with those people at the club who are interested. ‘This made me think what would it take for me to run my own group for older people? They seem to get so much out of it too.’

Jane found out about Read To Lead and decided to apply to attend with a view to leading her own shared reading group.

‘It was scary applying as I thought maybe I might not be good enough or it might only be for people with a degree. I spoke to a few people who encouraged me and I applied. On the day I was very nervous but I soon felt ok. I felt there was a Jane sized space for me and I thought “this is it, I’m alright here”.

Jane reading aloud at the children's rhyme session at Brompton Library
Jane reading aloud at the children’s rhyme session at Brompton Library

At the moment Jane is still running her Baby Rhyme Time group at Brompton Library every week as well as reading poems with older folk at the lunch club. However her latest big enterprise is a new group in Hoxton for children aged under five and their carers called Tots and Co. Needless to say this new group will involve lots of wonderful books and stories read aloud. Jane’s story is a testament to how the power of reading and being a part of a shared reading group can have far-reaching impacts and provide not only a way back in a life that may be lost but bring a whole new direction and sense of achievement too.

Jane’s remarkable story is just one example of many of how sharing reading can affect an individual’s life, in a small or significant way. Take a look at our collection of Reader Stories on our website to see the various stories that have emerged within our readers:

Interested in Reading With Us in London? You’ll find a full list of our open groups in the area, as well as across the UK on our group map:

Read to Lead this Autumn in Glasgow

Sharing Reading Experience MastheadRead to Lead Glasgow
30th/31st October, 1st November 2013
City Halls & Old Fruitmarket, Candleriggs, Glasgow G1 1NQ

Looking for a new start with literature this Autumn? Interested in using your love of reading to make an impact on the lives of others – and to discover more about yourself? The Reader Organisation is taking our revolutionary shared reading course, Read to Lead, to Glasgow this October and November.

Read to Lead is the only course that introduces you to the working practice of shared reading. A stimulating, enriching and inspiring three-days literary learning will enable you to run shared reading sessions informed by The Reader Organisation’s visionary practice. After the course, you will receive twelve months access to our exclusive and specially tailored Ongoing Learning provision, ensuring you can further your shared reading practice with support from staff and fellow practitioners.

We’re especially pleased to be bringing Read to Lead all the way up to Glasgow this Autumn as we have a real Reading Revolution going on there already. Our Glasgow Schools project is a three year transition project, funded by the Tudor Trust, which aims to promote, develop and deliver a culture of reading amongst children, their families and the wider community in the East End of Glasgow. Each week our Reader-in-Residence Patrick reads with over 280 children through group, one-to-one and whole school readings. Children who have never read out loud before in the classroom are doing so with confidence and enthusiasm, recommending stories and poems to their friends and contributing more to their studies, with shared reading sessions an important part of the fabric of school life.

Here is just one Reader story from our Glasgow Schools Project, of a child from St Mungo’s Learning Community:

When I first met H, he was incredibly stony faced and made little to no eye contact throughout the entirety of our early sessions. However, as we progressed he began to enjoy the short stories more and really valued having an hour without his brother or any of his peers close at hand. The big breakthrough for H came when reading the Skellig extract from A Little, Aloud for Children. H loved the suspense and horror of finding a decrepit man in his garage and was gripped throughout. At the end of the session when I asked him for a mark out of 10 he gave it an 8. When I asked him why only an 8 he said “I’d give it 10 if we knew who the man was”. When I told H that this was an extract from a longer story and that we could read it and find out if he liked he beamed from ear to ear and nodded, repeatedly saying “Yes!”.

Since then H has given the story 10 out of 10 each week, been really articulate in his responses to meeting Mina, his concerns for the baby and how it must feel to be Michael. Teachers overhearing from their rooms or passing by are astounded at how positive and enthralled H has been, especially as his default setting in class is to be so reticent and dour. Each week he remembers exactly where we have left off and sits smiling for an hour as we continue with the story.

You could bring about the same effects with people of all ages and backgrounds by joining us for Read to Lead in Glasgow this Autumn and beginning your journey into the world of shared reading. No former experience with literature or education is needed – just a belief in the social value of reading, a love of literature and lots of enthusiasm.

For full information on Read to Lead and how to book your place on our Glasgow course, see the Courses section of our website or contact our Literary Learning Coordinator Sophie Johnson on or 0151 207 7207.

Volunteering at The Reader Organisation: Arline’s Story

Sharing Reading Experience Masthead large 72dpiAt The Reader Organisation, we’re lucky to work with a growing band of hardworking and dedicated volunteers who are helping us to spread the benefits of shared reading even further across communities. With ongoing support, our volunteers are sharing reading experiences and growing in confidence, as well as doing vital work to develop the Reading Revolution.

We’re currently looking to expand the number of volunteers in our Barnet Volunteering Project in London, where volunteers can read for a minimum of half a day a week in older people’s care and local community settings around the area. More details about the project can be found on our website and here on The Reader Online.

Our Barnet project, the first of its kind in community settings, has already been successful, providing many positive shared reading experiences for readers and volunteers alike. This story comes from one of our volunteer facilitators in Barnet, Arline Blass, who recounts her experience of running a group with residents living with dementia in Rubens House Care Home:

“I began working with this group in March 2013 and have been amazed at the response we get from the regular attendees, two women and two men. They concentrate on the poetry we give them and as the facilitator reads they follow the poem, sometimes reading along with us quietly.

They offer to read out loud to the group and with a little gentle coaxing they often volunteer information from the depths of their memory which has been triggered by something in the poem. Over the weeks they have started to recognise the facilitators and we are often greeted by “Oh it’s the two of them again!”

They 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.

We are tremendously fortunate to have a most sympathetic and able member of staff at our sessions. She helps enormously with her presence and her anticipation of problems that may be arising. On occasions a member of the group just will not feel like participating and will doze off quietly. At other times they can be very talkative and will participate with enthusiasm.

Usually there is a theme to the session and we read two or three poems each time. The group responds well to poems about friendship, love and even the Second World War which brought up memories of having been evacuated and what life was like then.

Once when reading poems on travel, one lady volunteered the information that she had travelled to Cambridge when she was young. When asked why she had gone there, she told us that she had been at Girton College studying mathematics. She must have been one of the first women in the country to study maths and she was very happy to discuss it with the group.

It is interesting to discover that sometimes the group do not respond much to some poems while others will provoke lots of conversation and comments.

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.”

The Reader Organisation is currently seeking volunteers of all abilities with excellent communication skills to volunteer in Barnet. Do you believe in the value of reading? Can you be flexible, open to new ways of thinking and approaching literature and show care for others?

You can find out more about this opportunity, training starting this October, by downloading this flier, seeing our website, or for further information, contact Paul Higgins on or 07985 718744.

Reading for pleasure puts children ahead in the classroom

068A new study has found that children who regularly read for pleasure are more likely to perform significantly better in school subjects than their peers who read less.

The research by the Institute of Education at University of London is the first study of its kind to examine the effects of reading for pleasure on the cognitive development of children over time. Researchers discovered that children who read for pleasure made more progress in maths, vocabulary and spelling between the ages of 10-16 when compared with those who rarely read. The reading behaviour of 6,000 young people was analysed, as were the test scores of children from the same social backgrounds at ages 5 and 10. The study discovered that children who read books often at age 10 and more than once a week at age 16 gained higher results in all three ability tests at age 16 than those who read less regularly.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery of the research is that a child’s own reading for pleasure was found to have a greater effect on cognitive development between the ages of 10-16 than their parents’ level of education. The effect of reading books often paired with going to the library regular and reading newspapers at the age of 16 made four times the difference to progress in school than the advantage gained from having a parent with a degree.

Dr Alice Sullivan, one of the researchers who carried out the study, noted:

“It may seem surprising that reading for pleasure would help to improve children’s maths scores. But it is likely that strong reading ability will enable children to absorb and understand new information and affect their attainment in all subjects.”

060All of The Reader Organisation’s projects with children and young people are focused on reading books for pleasure. We work both in schools in Liverpool, Wirral and Scotland fostering a love for reading, as well as in one-to-one sessions within and outside of the classroom. Our aims are to develop a life-long love of reading for pleasure in children and young people and to create a culture of shared reading amongst parents, carers and teachers. We’re developing a reading for pleasure revolution with teachers of the future at Liverpool Hope University, so the news that reading for pleasure makes a real difference to pupils is something we’re welcoming.

Many of the children and young people we read with on a regular basis have gained a number of positive effects from regular reading for pleasure. W, a looked-after child with learning difficulties is just one of them:

When I first started reading one to one with him, his reading ability seemed so low that I felt concerned about finding a book that would be appropriate for his age as well as his ability. As it happened, in our first meeting I had taken the book Skellig, by David Almond, which I had almost written off as being too difficult for him. However, he liked the cover, so I thought, well, let’s give it a go. I started reading it to W, and almost immediately, he was hanging off every word. He was just soaking up the story, and watching my face – I wondered if he had ever been read to before.

We have a reading ‘trick’ now, where W, when he is reading, follows the words with his finger and taps under words he doesn’t know. I then whisper the word to him, and he repeats it and continues with his reading. His reading is getting better and better, and his vocabulary is widening – but what is more important in our sessions is his enjoyment of the book. W is expressing more and more feeling and thought through the book.

W’s story shows that not only does reading for pleasure have an measurable effect on ability and comprehension, but it is first and foremost a fun and enjoyable activity that enhances a child’s confidence and brings out more of themselves.

Read W’s Reader Story in full, along with others about some of the children and young people we read with, on our website, where you can also discover more about our projects in education settings across the UK.

Betty’s Reader Story

dementia 2Earlier this week on The Reader Online we gave a summary of the ‘Living Well with Dementia’ session at Shared Reading for Healthy Communities, this year’s National Conference of The Reader Organisation. The session presented some thought-provoking examples of how shared reading can impact upon people living with dementia, leading on the positive findings from CRILS‘ research publication, A Literature-Based Intervention for Older People Living with Dementia.

Each week, our Project Workers and many of our volunteers are sharing reading with older people and those living with dementia, providing time and space to relax, interact with others and engage in meaningful, stimulating activity. Not only do residents get to connect with great literature but their mood and concentration improves, with personal memories and stories beginning to emerge.

Here’s one of our Reader Stories from Betty, a resident in a care home – just one example of how taking part in shared reading can prove to be ‘a window on the world’ and much more for people living with dementia.

Betty is a regular at the Care Home 1 group. She is 93 years old. Since before Christmas, Betty’s health seems to have deteriorated, but she is still keen to come to the group and share poetry. One week when she was not in the group I was told she was in the quiet lounge and didn’t want to move. When I went to say hello however, she was most put out and said ‘I would have come, I love the poetry.’  So we read a couple of poems together, just the two of us.

Betty particularly likes poems about the sea. As a child she lived in Flint in Wales, but always visited Talacra on the coast and has clear memories of it. Eventually her father built a bungalow at Talacra and she recalls many holidays, including a sad one when some young men were drowned. Betty also has a strong memory of being cut off by the tide and being ‘guided’ back to shore by a dog. She never knew what became of the dog.

dementia 4Another great favourite of Betty’s is ‘Pedlars’ by W D Rands. She remembers it as one of the first poems she learned as a child. She and the other members of the group had a really good conversation about seeing gypsies travelling in traditional wooden caravans and remembering the tinkling sound they made as everything inside moved around.

Betty had a happy marriage, but does not seem to have had children of her own, although she fostered them. She also loved to garden and seems knowledgeable when we read poems about nature or gardens. Betty has plainly always loved to read. She says her mother loved poetry and she thinks that’s where her love of it originates. She recalls a mobile library (a horse and cart) coming to her childhood home in Flint. Her mother would keep the more ‘grown up’ books on a high shelf, but as they got older, Betty and her siblings were allowed to reach for these.

Find more of our Readers’ Stories on our website, where you can also discover more about shared reading with older people and people living with dementia.

Shared Reading for Healthy Communities: Denise’s Story

IMG_0487 72dpiThe Reader Organisation’s fourth national conference, Shared Reading for Healthy Communities, took place last month in London and we’re still enlivened and inspired by the day, full of insightful evidence and wonderful stories about the power of shared reading. For those of you who couldn’t join us or for those who simply want a refresher of what happened on the day, The Reader Online is bringing you a series of highlights from the conference over the next few weeks here on the blog.

There’s no better place to start than with how the day itself began, and for what was one of the highlights for many of our delegates, a personal testimonial from one of our Get Into Reading group members. Denise is a member of one of our Book Break groups in London, and shared her story of how the group has helped her to ‘rebuild her life’:

I joined Book Break at a time when I was at my lowest ebb. I had been ill for a couple of years and coupled with other problems I had not bounced back. I had withdrawn completely from society and had given up the many activities that I used to love.

This particular morning I had just come out of my doctor’s surgery and outside the library, which was a couple of doors down, was a lady handing out leaflets and telling passers-by about Book Break sessions that were starting in a couple of weeks’ time. I stopped to hear about the sessions and as we talked I started to feel uplifted for the first time in a very long while. Additionally, I had been undergoing ongoing surgery on one of my eyes, which left me not being able to see properly or read for lengthy amounts of time, so even reading a newspaper was difficult and I had not picked up a book in ages. That day will be etched on my mind forever, as it was the start on the road to recovery and getting back to living. Two weeks later I went along to Book Break and that was 4 years ago.

Book Break helped me to venture out again. I have rebuilt my life, have many pastimes and enjoy community involvement. It is unique because of its appeal to all ages, people from all walks of life, people with difficulties or problems and just people who want a dedicated time for reading, with no interruptions. It calms the anxious mind; it is an escape from everyday pressures; it is a sounding board for those with English as a second language; it is company, and I have seen the benefits that it has given so many people.

In our group we not only talk about the book; we often can relate to parts that match incidents in our lives or places that we have been too and our discussions take on new meaning. We research different things related to the poem or book and people bring in information to discuss the next week. For instance, we are currently reading Jamaica Inn and the story line left us wondering about law and order at the time when the book was set and information on this was found for us all to share.

I think I have most liked reading Spies by Michael Frayn. I did not really want to read this at the beginning; I hate anything to do with spies, the Cold War, etc. as I never understand them. When we read this, we were all sitting on the edge of our seats and could not wait for the next week to come; we all had theories and we were all wrong! A brilliant book.

This week (17th-22nd June) is London Creativity and Wellbeing Week, and we run shared reading groups in Barnet, Kensington and Chelsea, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, Southwark, Haringey and Westminster each week which offer Londoners the chance to relax, rejuvenate and boost their wellbeing through reading and discussing books together.

To learn more about our work in London and see a full list of open groups, visit the Where We Work and Reading With Us sections of our website.

Carers Week 2013

Carers-Week-2013-logo1This week (10th-16th June) is Carers Week 2013, a UK-wide annual campaign that has the aim of raising the profile of carers, recognising and celebrating the contribution of the nation’s 6.5 million carers to the people they care for, their communities and society, and helping the public to identify themselves as carers, accessing the support they need.

Carers are amongst our hundreds of readers enjoying Get Into Reading groups across the UK each week. Sharing reading with others offers carers the chance to relax, take a break and enjoy some much needed time for themselves, with the company of others. Benefits of our Get Into Reading groups include reduced social isolation, stability and support, and increased personal confidence, all of which are of significant value to the lives of carers.

As well as being able to come along to our open community groups, we currently run a number of groups especially for carers in Liverpool (Toxteth Library), Wigan (Wigan and Leigh Carers Centre), Wirral (The Lauries Centre) and the South West (Feel Better With A Book groups throughout Devon). Information on all of our groups aimed at carers, as well as our open groups, can be found on the Reading With Us section of our website.

books and tea reading circleTo celebrate Carers Week, here is a Reader Story from one of our readers in London, describing the impact Get Into Reading has had on her life:

I heard about Book Break at a carers information event at Central Library and I went straight to the library as the group was about to start that very day. I was desperately lonely, had no friends and nobody to talk to. I had arrived in the UK a year previously and after the initial phase and excitement of setting up the household and getting the family settled in I was really feeling the isolation and lack of connection.

At home there is little intellectual stimulation or conversation. My husband is away at work from 8am to 8pm and when he gets home he is very tired. My son, who is 20, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. This has been a big sorrow in our lives which we make light of but the underlying tragedy is always there, that he will never get ‘well’.

I started to attend every week as I just loved the group. I thrived on the mental stimulation and the real connection with other people. I have learnt to read and appreciate really difficult books and I think it has helped me feel better about myself. Somehow reading the book in a group makes it feel achievable when on my own I would not have even started.

Recently I enrolled on a short course at Oxford University which requires me to do a lot of pre-reading. Before attending Book Break I would not have had the confidence to read the required material, now I know I can. Book Break has shown me that it is possible to read something and not understand it initially but that with a little time, effort and application not only can I understand it, but I can love it.

One of the great things for me about the group is the regularity of it. As I don’t work I have little structure in my life, Book Break helps me with this. It happens every week at the same time and I know every week where I will be then.

When I think back to how my life was before coming to Book Break and how I am now, there is no comparison. I was lonely, isolated and struggling hesitantly to adjust in this new country. Now I feel part of something important and meaningful and have made some great friends. My life is so much easier. The Book Break group has opened my mind to a world of new experiences.

Read through more of our Reader Stories on our website, as well as finding out how you can Read With Us at our groups for carers around the country.