We’re delighted to announce the news that Social Business Trust has awarded £1.5 million worth of funding and business support to The Reader, allowing us to reach many more people across the country through shared reading.
We’ve been working with SBT since 2013, when their initial funding and investment of £280,000 gave us the learning and support needed to grow and strengthen the core of what we do. Expertise from SBT’s corporate partners including British Gas have enabled us to develop our projects, measure our impacts and help people who need the benefits that our unique and innovative shared reading model can bring. Thanks to continued support from SBT through this new package of funding, we’ll be able to more than double the number of people we reach from 11,000 a year to 27,000 by 2018.
Adele Blakeborough MBE, CEO of Social Business Trust has seen the effects of shared reading for herself:
“It is incredibly moving and compelling to see the difference The Reader makes to thousands of vulnerable people through its simple model of shared reading groups. We know there is scope to expand The Reader’s important work more extensively across the country and are delighted to support the organisation to achieve that growth.”
Our shared reading groups take place in a variety of settings around the UK including prisons, mental health centres, care homes and local communities. The simple model of reading aloud in facilitated groups is proven to support positive mental health and wellbeing, combating isolation, calming aggression and helping people with dementia. Through the act of reading on a regular basis with others, people can connect with a better understanding of themselves, realise opportunities they might not have thought possible and make changes in their lives.
We’re already helping people like Angela to do this:
Angela from Liverpool has bipolar affected disorder and experienced a full nervous breakdown three years ago. She joined a group at The Reader a year ago and then started volunteering on reception at our head office. As a result of building her confidence and experience, she is about to begin a paid job.
Angela says: “I saw my consultant for the first time in 6 months the other day and I don’t think he could believe the change in me. If I was putting percentages on my progress over the last year I would say 30% natural improvement and pills and 70% down to coming here. If I hadn’t found The Reader, who knows what I would be doing now?”
Thanks to our continued funding from SBT, we’ll be able to help even more people in many more places across the UK.
To find out more about how SBT are helping social enterprises around the country, including The Reader, to scale up the impact they make, visit their website.
The theme for this year’s For Later Life conference is brain ageing and dementia, and will consider how health and care services can best help older people in an increasingly ageing society to live as well as possible with cognitive decline, in many cases alongside other health conditions.
CRILS is the research partner of The Reader Organisation and most recently published Read to Care, a report evaluating the impacts of engaging with literature, specifically the shared reading model introduced by The Reader Organisation, amongst people living with dementia. We have been reading in dementia settings since 2006, with the model adapted to make the reading experience more easily accessible and meaningful for group members involved. Examining how shared reading can contribute to an improvement in quality of life for people living with dementia, Read to Care places particular consideration on the impacts of reading poetry in shared reading groups upon mental processes including memory, emotion and personal awareness.
Amongst other findings, Read to Care highlights the connection between literature and memory for those with dementia, whereby poetry that is read acts as a ‘trigger’ to bring participants back to life for the moment they are experiencing, as well as recalling moments from their past. This is evidenced by group members taking part in the study, including Polly, whose story is recounted by the reading group leader:
Polly sometimes struggled to focus on the words on the page but would often comment on the difference that it made when she heard a poem read well. On another occasion Polly responded to certain lines as others were reading the poems, and would comment in sudden little phrases: ‘Oh isn’t that lovely!’
I asked her a question a bit later and she seemed slightly startled, as if she had been thinking. She then said: ‘Do you know what I think. When you’re young, why do you grow up?’ This felt like a very good question to be asking: perhaps somewhat in the spirit of a child, but from an adult’s perspective. The losses in dementia are often like the gains in development when, in the child, they come and go because not yet firmly established as acquired skills. Polly started to speak towards the end of the session of several childhood memories. She spoke of her father, who I had not heard her mention before. He had had a stroke when she was still only young, and Polly said that she couldn’t understand, as a child, why he couldn’t speak. She said there were times when she did not know where he was; she seemed to imply that it felt as if he was not there.
Professor Davis will discuss the relationship between shared reading and dementia and present findings from Read to Care in ‘The arts: case studies in dementia care’ as part of For Later Life 2015 on Wednesday 18th November at BMA House, London. The conference will showcase new approaches in the prevention and treatment of age-related cognitive impairment, innovative policy proposals and promising practice ideas, and the latest research findings.
The North West has been recognised as a leading region for social enterprises in the UK, and The Reader Organisation is proud to stand amongst the top regionally based social enterprises listed in the Natwest SE100 Index.
The Natwest SE100 Index tracks the performance, growth, financial progress and positive impacts of social businesses across the UK, breaking down data by regions and sectors. It includes data from nearly 1,000 businesses and organisations to date, 83 in the last year hailing from the North West, and all of which can be viewed on an open-access platform. You can view and search the Index here.
Over the past financial year, the North West social enterprise contingent has recorded an average growth of 9.6%, a total combined turnover of over £717 million and a combined regional profit increase from £62.9 to £69 million.
The Reader Organisation is listed in the Health and social care sector of the SE100 Index, one of the top three sectors for profit growth in the North West in the last year. Each week our shared reading groups – running in the North West and elsewhere across the UK – are reaching people with social, mental and physical issues in a variety of settings, providing an alternative and cost effective solution to society-wide problems, stimulating wellbeing and social interaction and providing access to great literature. As one of our members puts it:
“The reading group mends holes in the net you would otherwise fall through.”
Our Founder and Director Jane Davis comments on the value of being included in the SE100:
“The SE100 allows social enterprises to benchmark themselves against others and compete with the commercial sector. Profiling the success of social enterprise is a step towards changing people’s attitude to social businesses. Social enterprise is the way forward – capitalism, as we have known it, is not going to survive. Something else has to happen – people must become more important than profit.”
We’re delighted to be part of the thriving social enterprise sector in the North West, and look forward to building on the region’s success in the oncoming year with our continued development of Calderstones Mansion to become the International Centre for Reading and the opening of the Storybarn – the region’s first interactive story centre for children.
Every year, almost 148,000 children leave primary school in England unable to read well – including one third of all children growing up in poverty according to a report released by Save the Children as part of their Read On Get On Campaign.
Ready to Read calls on national government for ‘a decisive shift towards early action and investment to help address one of the country’s most pressing challenges – entrenched educational underachievement’.
However the report’s findings demonstrate that the root of this issue stems from a child’s pre-school years:
A child with weak language skills at the age of five is much less likely to be a strong reader at the age of 11
In England, almost one child in four (23%) does not meet the expected level of language development by the age of five
Children living in poverty face a much greater risk of falling behind – one in three (35%) does not have the language skills expected of a five-year-old
[Ready to Read, 2015]
Due to the impact of Early Years speech and language development on life chances, the report states that in order to fulfil the primary aim of the Read On Get On campaign – that every child in England can read well by the age of 11 by 2025 – an interim goal is needed: that every five-year-old in England should have good language skills by 2020.
However in the midst of calls for national focus and investment in Early Years, Save the Children recognises that this challenge is not Westminster’s alone. It also requires the coordination of local services, organisations and families to address reading standards – an area in which Liverpool is already leading the way through its city-wide campaign City of Readers, joint-funded by Liverpool City Council and Liverpool Learning Partnership, and delivered by The Reader Organisation.
The success of previous projects The Reader Organisation has delivered with children and young people in schools and other educational settings, including a three year transition project reading with deprived school pupils in Glasgow, have left us well-placed to replicate our efforts in Early Years Development. The graph below shows the improvement in reading and language skills of the children in one of our shared reading groups within the space of six months, when beforehand the same children had little interest in reading for pleasure:
Taking the initiative in 2012 to lay the foundations for future prosperity and skills growth, Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson instigated a 12-month commission into the city’s education system, led by former education secretary Estelle Morris. The Mayor saw a link between improving reading standards for children and reducing the number of NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training). The commissioned report From Better to Best was published in July 2013 and the City of Readers campaign was formed in order to develop a new generation of readers in Liverpool.
Since then, the Liverpool Learning Partnership initiative City of Readers has been promoting opportunities for families to help their children’s language and speech development, through projects including the PVI programme commissioned by Liverpool City Council’s Childcare and Family Information Service (CAFIS).
In the PVI programme, The Reader Organisation works with nurseries from the Private, Voluntary and Independent sector to deliver shared reading groups across Liverpool, for two-year olds and their parents and carers.This access to free early education also represents opportunities for family bonding and fostering reading pleasure.
Jan Gallagher, Principal Officer at CAFIS, spoke of how the PVI project has been received so far:
“Although still in the early stages of the programme, early indications are very positive, and feedback from nursery staff and parents is suggesting the benefits for the future, and the enjoyment of those families involved.”
In another initiative to encourage families to read together, City of Readers recently hosted a free event with the Sunday Times Children’s Book Editor Nicolette Jones and award-winning writer Frank Cottrell Boyce at The Reader Organisation’s headquarters in Calderstones Park. This event, ‘Turning Pages Together: a celebration of children’s literature’ saw both author and critic highlight their rich experience of the best in children’s literature to the community, just one of many events that the City of Readers campaign will be offering across the city to make reading for pleasure more accessible and achievable.
Nicolette Jones praised the foresight of Liverpool City Council in its efforts through City of Readers to raise the profile of reading in the city as a whole – celebrating the enjoyment of reading in all our communities:
“I am delighted that Liverpool City Council has been so enlightened as to encourage the exemplary Reader Organisation, which has found effective ways of making children and adults love books, and has allowed them to make Calderstones Mansion the hub of this joyous activity, as well as enabling their outreach into nurseries, homes, schools and other institutions.
The world is going to be a better place, starting in Liverpool.”
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson reinforces that a wider culture of reading needs to be embraced in order to increase children’s literacy development:
“I want to thank everyone who’s been engaged in the City of Readers programmes, but I also want families to be engaged… I want your grandparents, uncles, aunties, mums and dads… to help work with our young kids to make sure that they’re able to read and if we do that I’m sure our city will have a better future in terms of educational standards”.
City of Readers recently produced a short video highlighting their work with early years’ children and parents, giving an opportunity to hear directly from those involved with their PVI programme and the benefits they have experienced. You can watch the video here or by taking a look below (with special thanks to Insight Moving Images):
On August 10th City of Readers will be supporting the Read On Get On national Storytime Starters event with Beanstalk. The city-wide celebration of reading will see storytellers from both organisations offering free storytime sessions across several parks and green spaces in the city.
Find out more information about this event and where your nearest story time session will be as well as more on the City of Readers campaign at: www.cityofreaders.org
It’s Dementia Awareness Week (17th-23rd May), and this year’s theme is Do Something New, emphasising the fact that dementia needn’t prevent anyone from trying new things or taking enjoyment from the hobbies they already love.
Shared reading is a wonderful way to connect people living with dementia to the deep pleasure literature can provide, stimulating thoughts, feelings, emotion and memory. In our groups specially for people living with dementia and their carers, poems are read by the leading project worker to the group. Often these poems will be ones recalled from childhood or another significant life period. The rhyme, rhythm and compressed language of poetry helps to stimulate and maintain concentration, sparking off traces of memory. As well as remembering their past, group members are encouraged to enjoy the literature for what it is in the present moment. Effects of shared reading in this way include an increased sense of calm, reduced agitation and increased social interaction with others who are enjoying literature in the same way.
The power of poetry to give voice and a space for expression to people living with dementia comes through in Joan’s Story, recounted by one of our project workers sharing reading in a care home in Merseyside:
We were reading Wordsworth’s classic and much-used poem ‘Daffodils’. ‘Did you like it, Joan?’ asked the activities co-ordinator, to which Joan responded, very audibly – ‘Yeah. There’s something about it, I can’t explain.’ This felt like a moment of progress, even though or especially because it was about not being able to explain and also being able to say that. Poetry of course is good at creating that effect for any of us, whatever our supposed mental ability or disability: poetry is, as it were, content with making something become present though not fully explicable. After the group, the activities co-ordinator told me that she had never heard Joan able to string so many words together, let alone read aloud words from a page, and in the right order. Staff at the care home have since told me that Joan has a framed copy of ‘The Daffodils’ up on the wall in her room.
During the session Joan also responded well to the poem ‘Your Dresses’ by Carol Ann Duffy: I worked through each stanza, each separate ‘dress’, of the poem and picked out words or phrases with my finger, asking her questions as we went. She seemed to really enjoy looking at the words in this way, and responded either verbally by saying, ‘Yes, very nice’, or by gesturing as if she was trying on a dress in a window. Joan also began to pick parts of the poem to read on her own, and seemed to be trying to say something about it – that she did like it, but seemed frustrated that she couldn’t wear the dresses, or get inside it in some way. At the end of the session we read ‘Everything Touches’ by Roger McGough, to which she listened intently with a big smile on her face. I could tell she liked the poem, but also that some of it made her quite emotional. She said ‘I’m frightened’ at one point, but when I asked her what of, she changed again and seemed to be smiling and happy, reading the last three stanzas of it aloud on her own. On our way out of the room the staff member who had been in the session commented to me, ‘It is amazing – there is definitely something still there, and the poems really seem to bring it out.’
We currently run open community groups for people living with dementia and their carers in Devon, Wiltshire, and Barnet, North London. A new weekly group is starting at Manor Drive Methodist Church Hall, Whetstone on Thursdays, from 21st May, 10-11.30am.
Mental Health in Context
Tuesday 21st April, 5.30-7.30pm
The Women’s Organisation, 54 James Street, Liverpool L1 0AB
Introduced by Vice Chancellor of University of Liverpool, Professor Janet Beer
featuring a guest appearance from Jeanette Winterson, in conversation and reading from her work
with Professor Rhiannon Corcoran, Dr Jane Davis and Dr Eleanor Longden
This inaugural event of a new research group at the University of Liverpool will showcase real-life research in the University for the City in vital areas of human well-being.
Working within the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, Mental Health in Context brings together experts in the University of Liverpool from various fields of psychology and culture to consider mental health difficulties within the broader context of the social, cultural and personal realms in order to improve the understanding and treatment of those difficulties in the modern world.
Jeanette Winterson, the distinguished novelist who was born and raised in the North West of England, will speak of her own mental health experiences including her fictional and autobiographical writings, including her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, her belief in alternative interventions including in particular the uses of literature, and read from her work.
“Dealing with our world is really hard work. It is hard to be healthy, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, in a world where there is so little security and so much fear. Ill health is a response, a consequence of the way we live. It should not be pushed back onto us all as a personal problem. For me it’s the relationship between mind, body, outside world, and soul. The body so often carries the burdens of mental disturbance – usually through addiction, which can be food, drink, drugs, self-harming, or the pathology of wanting to be attractive all the time. Good mental health depends on knowing that life has an inside as well as an outside. That’s why meditation is so good. That’s why reading and the arts are so good. Knowing how to be on your own is one of the keystones of mental health.” – Jeanette Winterson
Dr Eleanor Longden exemplifies the nature of the project and the evening: she is someone who has had both profound personal experience of mental difficulties and is also a researcher within MHIC at University of Liverpool. She exemplifies the crucial two-way relation between research and reality, which is the subject-matter and purpose of MHIC. Her TED talk, ‘The Voices in My Head’, has attracted wide interest, amassing nearly 3 million views (and can be viewed here).
Yesterday we brought you the first part of our highlights from 2014 – from feeling Better with a Book to Shakespeare to a visit from a Royal guest…
Here’s the second part of what happened at The Reader Organisation this year:
Our research partners CRILS at the University of Liverpool are seeking to set the world agenda in reading, health and wellbeing and the role of literature in modelling creative thinking about human existence. Contributing to a growing evidence base, three new reports were published this year by CRILS with partners including the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen NHS Hospital Trust which demonstrate the impacts of shared reading to participants in groups in a range of settings.
Specific studies examining a literature-based intervention for people living with chronic pain and development of research into how shared reading improves quality of life for people living with dementia brought forth a number of positive findings, and the intrinsic cultural value of The Reader Organisation’s weekly shared reading groups in providing a meaningful experience for different sectors of communities was also brought into the spotlight. All three reports can be read in detail on our website.
This year we created many more shared reading practitioners around the UK and internationally with our revolutionary Read to Lead course. We’ve worked with a range of organisations in places including Calderstones Mansion House, Sheffield, Leicester, Derry, Durham, Devon, and Flanders in Belgium – equipping hundreds of people with the skills to share reading in their workplaces and communities.
Our Ongoing Learning programme brought more Masterclasses touring around the country, and there was a brilliant programme of Short Courses for Serious Readers throughout the year discovering a wealth of great literature from varying topics and eras including The Divine Comedy by Dante, a Whizz-tour through the World of Children’s Literature and learning to Feel the Fear and Read it Anyway with selections of challenging literature.
We were delighted to have our impact recognised on a local and national scale by being shortlisted for the Culture Champion award in the Powerful Together Awards for Social Enterprises across Merseyside and the Resilence category at the RBS SE100 Awards – both amazing achievements.
Our Founder and Director Jane Davis was nominated for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year in the Northern heats and shortlisted for Social Enterprise UK’s Women’s Champion Award.
There were plenty of other wonderful things we took part in this year, including a global celebration of reading aloud on World Read Aloud Day, bringing shared reading to the bill at Latitude Festival, combining poetry with the great outdoors on World Mental Health Day and delivering taster sessions at the Literary Kitchen Festival in South London.
This year also saw the expansion of our work into other areas of communal life, namely the opening of The Reader Cafe and The Reader Gallery at Calderstones Mansion House, which have been bustling with people enjoying local exhibitions and a scrumptious selection of food and drink alongside a poem.
Great literature remains at the heart of what we do and this year we expanded the core of our work, bringing shared reading and its benefits to even more people across the country. We began new projects for people with dementia/memory loss and their carers in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, enabled more volunteers to join us to share reading in London, North Wales, South West and Leicestershire, began a pioneering project with service users, staff and volunteers at Phoenix Futures and employed our first Reader-in-Residence in Sheffield.
Without doubt the best of our highlights come from our Readers who shared their remarkable stories with us, including Shad, D and A.
“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… I am once again discovering the joy of settling down to a good read.”
Our thanks go out to everyone who has supported us throughout the year – our work could not continue without the valued input of so many people. We hope to keep reading with you for years to come!
2014 is fast drawing to a close, and what a year it’s been for us here at The Reader Organisation. Looking back it’s almost hard to believe how much we’ve crammed into the space of twelve months. It’s been a time defined by growth and development, with new shared reading and volunteering projects around the UK, events for all ages and interests with a packed programme at Calderstones Mansion House all year around, a new anthology to add to our bookshelf and our number of staff has surpassed 100.
Before the bells of the New Year ring, we’ve got time to look back on the year that has been…and there’s been so much happening that we’ve had to split it into two parts.
At the start of 2014 we announced Better with a Book, our fifth annual National Conference, which explored the connections between reading great literature, improved mental health and the reduction of social isolation. The British Library Conference Centre was vibrant with interested delegates, all of whom came together for a day focused on the impacts of shared reading. Guest speakers included Lord Melvyn Bragg, who spoke about the effects of reading on his own life and that of his mother, who was diagnosed with dementia; Baroness Estelle Morris, and Dr Alice Sullivan of the Instiute of Education. Most memorable were the personal stories of our Readers, who shared their experiences of how reading has changed their life.
Calderstones Mansion House – the future International Centre for Reading – came to life with a series of special events throughout the year. From Half-Term Hijinks and an Easter Extravaganza for children and the family to historical tours of the Mansion and an authentic 1940s-style Tea Dance, there has been tons for the community to enjoy. We were delighted to welcome back Shakespeare’s Globe for highly praised performances of Much Ado About Nothing, and the Secret Garden opened up to amazed audiences as we held our first Children’s Literature Festival, complete with storytelling, competitions and giant games of Quidditch.
The London Penny Readings returned to the Southbank Centre as part of London Literature Festival, and back in Liverpool the ever popular festive reading and entertainment extravaganza the Penny Readings sold out in record time.
2014 has brought four new issues of The Reader, with contributions from names including Erwin James, Alan Howarth, Margaret Drabble, David Constantine, Maxine Peake, Miriam Gamble and Michael Schmidt.
To mark the centenary of the start of the First World War, co-editor of The Reader and Godfather of The Reader Organisation Brian Nellist compiled a new poetry anthology, On Active Service: 1914-1918, remembering the extraordinary experiences of ordinary people commemorated in their own words.
The happenings at Calderstones and the City of Readers project received lots of local press, and reading aloud came to the airwaves as our groups were featured in two programmes on BBC Radio 4. In his series exploring the English language, Stephen Fry looked at the art of reading aloud – “a life-changing business” – featuring input from our some of our group members, who attested to this statement. Calderstones Mansion House also featured in Open Book, being showcased as a ‘reading oasis’ for the community.
Our social media channels are continuing to get people talking about great literature – we have over 8,400 followers on Twitter – with our regional Twitter accounts sparking lots of interest too – and more than 1,700 likes on Facebook.
Therapy through Literature takes as its subject what the psychologist William James described
as the predicament of ‘twice-born souls’ – those who have to readjust to experience,
following trauma. It looks at crucial versions of life-reappraisal within literature, including prose narratives of breakdown and second chance from Charles Dickens to Oliver Sacks, and the expressive power of poetry as a form of second life, including Elizabethan sonnet writers, Wordsworth
and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This is an intensive but personally moving reading course
designed to show the value of literary thinking through the close exploration of literary
language across the ages, in the search for human meaning.
The module can become part of a two-year, part-time Masters degree in Reading for Life, the first of its kind in the country. Reading for Life is concerned with the wider and deeper ways in which serious creative literature ‘finds’ people, emotionally and imaginatively, by offering living models and visions of human troubles and human possibilities. The course offers books of all kinds – novels, poetry, drama and essays in philosophy and theology – and from all periods, from Shakespeare to the present.
The Therapy through Literature MA module starts in January 2015 at the University of Liverpool in London, 33 Finsbury Square, London EC2A 1AG, with enrolment taking place now.
Cost: £750 per module (+ £50 for accreditation); 30 credits for 6,000 word essay, plus informal formative writing in practice and preparation.
Please contact Professor Phil Davis, Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS), University of Liverpool: firstname.lastname@example.org
Together with Goldsmiths University, London, CRILS will be running a 3 year research project examining and establishing the value and effects of shared reading sessions on individuals. The research is funded by Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital Trust and is part of our South London project, which focuses on a whole population approach to shared reading. A shared reading group which will be the focus of the research is to be set up in Croydon Central Library for an initial period of 24 weeks.
The project will continue ongoing research into the social and cultural value of shared reading, and is the first to take place in London, where our shared reading projects have been operating since 2009.
Last month, two new reports were published by CRILS examining the benefits of shared reading, looking in particular at the intrinsic cultural value of The Reader Organisation’s shared reading model as a particpatory and voluntary experience and further investigation into how shared reading impacts on improving quality of life for people living with dementia. Conclusions from both reports were positive, finding a series of factors which emphasise the humanising presence of literature and support previous research which has discovered benefits such as improved self-confidence, reduced stress, increased social interaction and community integration . You can download ‘Cultural Value: Assessing the intrinsic value of The Reader Organisation’s Shared Reading Scheme’ and ‘Read to Care: An Investigation into Quality of Life Benefits of Shared Reading Groups for People Living with Dementia’ on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/research
We’re currently looking for anyone who would like to take part in the new shared reading group in Croydon Central Library as part of this new and valuable research. Shared reading groups are informal and voluntary, with no pressure to take part in the reading – you can simply listen to the texts as they are being read aloud.
If you’re interested or would like more information, please call 0781 332 4852.