Mersey Care Reads Update

In posts during October we introduced Mersey Care Reads, a joint project between The Reader and Mersey Care NHS Trust, which aims to set up reading groups for service users across the Trust. The project is now well under way, with nine groups currently in action and a host of training sessions taking place for Mersey Care staff members and volunteers who have come forward to facilitate ongoing groups at the end of the project.

One of these groups is based at Crown Street Resource Centre, part of the adult mental health service provided by Mersey Care. The group got off to a terrific start back in October, with the support of Martin Maxwell, an enthusiastic member of staff who invites service users and joins in with the group each week. He is one of those taking on the Key Professional Training and will continue to facilitate the reading group after the twelve month project finishes. The group of eight have got to grips with a whole range of material since then, including Simon Armitage poetry, a short story by Chekov and (with Christmas fast approaching), Dickens. Our time is split into two 45 minute sessions with a 15 minute tea break in the middle. We usually start and finish by reading a poem together, reading either a short story or chapter from a longer book in between. In recent sessions we have read sections from Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island focusing on the chapters on Manchester and Liverpool. Bryson is fascinated by Liverpool’s history and writes about the present state of the Dock area of the city with an ever present longing for the old glory days of hustle and bustle.

I was appalled to think that never in my life would I have an opportunity to stride down a gangplank in a panama hat and a white suit and go looking for a bar with a revolving ceiling fan. How crushingly unfair life can sometimes be.

As we read this, members of the group recalled their own memories of the dockland, the ‘past’ which Bryson suggests dominates Liverpool’s future. One gentleman told us:

My Father worked at sea, and when he was home, he used to take me for a trip on the overhead railway on a Saturday morning. I used to draw pictures of the ships, it was wonderful. Once he took me on a tour of an Indian Destroyer, I’d never seen anything like it!’

We talked about the idea of Liverpool as ‘a place with more past than future’. Most people disagreed with this: ‘You need to have memory and a link to the past, but you take that and use it for the future’ said one group member. The idea of ‘using’ past experience, perhaps especially, the negative, to create a positive future was something which we picked up again in the poem The Road Not Taken. On reading this, one gentleman commented, ‘There are things that happen in your life that you may regret, but if they hadn’t happened, you would have missed out on things. You don’t know what will happen to shape things. If I hadn’t been in a car crash years ago, I wouldn’t be sat here today’.

This week we started reading A Christmas Carol. It is the first reading of this story for everyone in the group, although a couple of people have seen various film adaptations. There was a lot of debate about the character of Scrooge himself. After reading the first few pages where we are given an impression of Scrooge and his solitary existence one man suddenly said

I think he is lonely. Sometimes when you don’t see people you don’t feel like you want to be integrated with them. It’s difficult. That’s how I feel and I think it is how he feels here.

Another group member replied:

I don’t think he feels lonely. I think he is lonely, but he doesn’t feel it, or doesn’t know what it is.

We talked about the idea that you could be lonely, but not know it yourself and how terrifying that would be, because it might mean you would never be able to escape the loneliness. ‘If you could get through to Scrooge and make him see, that would be wonderful!’ someone exclaimed. We battled with the relationship between Scrooge’s apparent hatred of people, warmth and joy, and his strange contentedness with his situation. This led us to question: Is Scrooge happy? ‘I think he is happy with his version of happiness. But I don’t think it is a very good one’ was one answer which made another member of the group stop and say ‘That’s interesting. I think that’s right. Its not a good one’. Everyone is very keen to find out whether anyone can indeed ‘get through to Scrooge’ during the rest of the story and we are well and truly ‘hooked’ and looking forward to reading further in the next session in order to find out the answer!

By Katie Peters

Mersey Care Reads Update

In her piece a few weeks ago, Get Into Reading project worker Mary Weston introduced the Mersey Care Reads project, a joint venture between The Reader and Mersey Care NHS Trust, which aims to set up reading groups in trust sites across the district. She spoke of the fantastic support we have received from the trust in getting the project off the ground.

One month later we have six groups up and running across the services with another three due to be set up before Christmas. One of these groups is based at Mossley Hill Hospital, working with older people’s services. So far we have had three sessions together and have read poetry by Wordsworth and Pam Ayres alongside short stories by Helen Dunmore and Ernest Buckler. Last week we read Chapter 6 of Little Women, the classic tale of four sisters growning up during the American Civil War. In this section, Beth, the quiet, modest sister, is invited to play the grand piano at the house of their rich neighbour Mr Lawrence. Having been educated at home, due to her chronic shyness, this is an almost impossible prospect for Beth, whose love of music battles with her timidity in this chapter. The thing we liked most was the way the characters of Beth and Mr Lawrence each brought out a different side of each other through the chapter. One group member commented

‘Reading this has made me wish I took more notice when I read it years ago. I didn’t take things in then, but now I notice the details. It is so wonderfully written. It really is beautiful’

We have decided to continue looking at this novel in the coming weeks, looking at the characters of the other sisters.

The support from Mersey Care staff has continued to enable the project to get off to a fantastic start and the Mossley Hill group has benefitted from the hard work of two excellent Occupational Therapists who are part of the team being trained to facilitate reading groups themselves so that the project will leave a lasting legacy of reading groups throughout the trust in years to come.

Posted by Katie Peters

Pitching her case: Jane Davis on Night Waves

In the run-up to this year’s BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking festival in Liverpool next month, Jane Davis (Director, The Reader), can be heard pitching her case for the promotion and pleasure of books for all, as part of the festival’s People’s Choice debate. Listen to Jane on Radio 3’s Night Waves tonight at 21.45.

Of all the art-forms, only books allow us to fully understand the human experience…

Are you a supporter of what we do? Do you think that The Reader‘s hard work and enthusiasm should be further recognised? If so, get voting in the People’s Choice debate during the Free Thinking festival (9th – 11th November)!

The Reader is running ‘Book at Breakfast’ events on Saturday 10th November and Sunday 11th November as part of the BBC’S Free Thinking festival. It is an invitation only event but you will be able to listen to the programmes on Radio 3.

Get into Reading Footsoldier Dies and Goes to Heaven

Mary Weston manages the Merseycare Reads Project, teaches in Continuing Education, works as a counsellor, runs open house for asylum seekers, failing relatives and homeless teenagers, exercises a bordercollie, stage mothers, sings mezzo-soprano and writes fiction.

Earlier this week Katie Peters described some of her experiences working for for Get Into Reading at the Merseycare NHS Trust. In this post her co-worker Mary Weston highlights the difficulties of persuading healthcare practitioners to consider reading projects as part of their care packages:

One moment I was in the thick of it – Rockets bursting in the skies, heavy mortar fire shaking the earth. To the right of me, Captain O’Connor and Sgt Purcell were scrambling into no man’s land for yet another assault on the high ground of Whetstone Lane. Further to the south, I knew Lt. Williams was single-handedly holding the bridgehead at New Ferry. Nasty show that.

My life flashed before my eyes. It seemed I was travelling weightlessly toward a white light…

I found myself in a landscape that seemed lit from within. Angelic beings came forward to meet me…

Merseycare NHS Trust have commissioned a Reader-in-Residence project: I think this must be the first serious investment in the Get Into Reading model of literature for health in the country, which is not to discount all the support Birkenhead and Wallasey PCT have given us over the years. Book blogger dovegreyreader has mentioned the difficulty of convincing health service managers to look at projects like this. She says: ‘I have an as yet unevaluated theory that we could halve the counselling budget in General Practice if we could … establish some all-inclusive Reading Groups on Prescription in surgeries.’

The Trust run a range of services in the Liverpool and Sefton areas: adult mental health, secure services, and older peoples’ services, as well as drugs, alcohol, and services for people with learning disabilities. I don’t know how many sites they run – it’s over 50, I think, including acute psychiatric wards at Stoddart House, Broadoak and Windsor House; adult mental health day centres like South Drive, Crown Street and Unicorn Road. In addition to Ashworth, there’s the medium-secure Scott Clinic, and the Low Secure Unit at Rathbone.

There’s no way that my job-share colleague could have known where to begin, which is where the angelic beings come in. Lindsey Dyer is the one who made it all possible, finding the funding and planning the project with a keen strategic eye, targeting potential reading group sites across the different directorates and areas. Not only does this mean that the benefits of reading groups are spread fairly, it gives us a chance to test the model with the different client groups, developing our expertise in working with people whose functioning is more impaired than the average Get Into Reading client. She is absolutely committed to the project and has been able to open (or kick down) doors that ordinarily would have been closed to us.

Then there’s Judith Mawer. Her job takes her peripatetically all over the Trust’s premises, supporting staff and encouraging best practice. Her inside knowledge has been invaluable, and the good will that she has with frontline workers has given the project a credibility it could never have had on our own. With her experience of doing English Literature on the University’s Continuing Education programme, she comes from the same stable as we do, speaks the same language.

Between them, Lindsey and Judith have managed to interest more than 50 staff members in volunteering as reading group facilitators or assistants. This is the way the programme will roll out and ‘embed’ itself. The Brigadier has just finished a series of Induction Sessions, which seems to have fired them all with enthusiasm. And Merseycare seems to have a tradition of leading from the front: the Chief Executive and the Medical Director, have committed themselves to leading weekly groups.

Is this all really happening? Or will I wake up and find myself in a Casualty Clearing Station on a morphine drip?

‘Captain Sensible’


by Mary Weston

Depression worst for health

An article published in The Lancet today states that depression “produces the greatest decrement in health” compared with the chronic diseases angina, arthritis, asthma and diabetes. Research by the World Health Organisation found that depression had the largest effect on declining health compared with other chronic illnesses. Professor Louis Appleby, National Director for Mental Health, said on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that “it is vital we find new models” to address this destructive condition. Get Into Reading, an outreach programme run by The Reader centre, was highly commended by Professor Appleby at this year’s Health and Social Care Awards for its work in this area.  Launching a project with Mersey Care NHS Trust in the next few weeks, The Reader is at the forefront of tackling the disabiling effects of depression through its unique model of weekly shared reading and conversation groups.

Meeting the Prime Minister

Last Wednesday Jane Davis and Kate McDonnell were invited to a reception held by the Prime Minister for public sector champions. Mr Blair said that he wanted to thank people who had done something special. Jane and Kate’s invitation came in recognition of the ground breaking Get Into Reading project, which works at the cutting edge of reading and health practice.

Along with Doctor Shyamal Mukherjee Kate and Jane were invited to have a few minutes with the PM who was interested to hear about Get Into Reading. He told Kate that his favourite book is Ivanhoe. He also said that he hadn’t enjoyed reading at school, despite having an inspiring English teacher, it was only in later life that he came to enjoy it.

Doctor Mukherjee invited the Prime Minister to visit Wirral’s Get Into Reading project once he has had a rest. If you would like to watch the moment Jane and Kate met the Prime Minister, just select the video footage below.