Reader Review of 2012

In 2012 we celebrated Get Into Reading’s tenth birthday, held our first Penny Readings in London, delivered a Read to Lead training course in Welsh, published A Little, Aloud for Children, and secured dozens of new commissions across the country. Just a quiet one then…

Here are some of our 2012 highlights:

Reader Events

2012 LPR Louis de Bernieres
Louis de Bernieres

To mark Dickens’ bicentenary, in January we took the Penny Readings to London. AS Byatt, Arthur Smith, Lucinda Dickens Hawsley, Louis de Bernieres and many other readers and performers took to the stage at the British Library to mark the occasion (you listen to an Australian radio feature about it here). And of course we were back in Liverpool in December with the Penny and Ha’penny Readings packing out St. George’s Hall once again.

As part of Guernsey’s Literature Festival we took our Ha’penny Readings on tour around the island with a packed schedule full of fun, entertainment and lots of stories and poems.

Stories Before Bedtime: a series of late night read aloud events at the Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly, with readers Niamh Cusack and Tom Hiddleston in February, Miranda Richardson, Sonya Cassidy and Mathew Horne in June, and Brian Blessed, Stephen Fry and Eddie Izzard in August.

Our annual conference, ‘Reading to Live Well’, was held in May at the British Library in London. Speakers included Dr Iona Heath, President of the Royal College of General Practioners, writers Lemn Sissaya and Erwin James, and Professor Jonathan Rose from Drew University.

‘Looking Backwards, Moving Forward’, a showcase event at the University of Stirling in July, presented the qualitative findings of a pilot Get Into Reading project in Scotland alongside the University of Liverpool’s CRILS evaluation report, ‘A Literature Based Intervention for Older People Living with Dementia’ (download the report here).

September was a time of great celebration for us – the tenth birthday of Get Into Reading – and we put on a special birthday bash in Wirral (where is all began) for 300 people, with group members joining us from all over the country.

Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce entertain the audience (c.Alan Edwards)
Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce entertain the audience (c.Alan Edwards)

In October Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce, part of the creative team behind the Olympic Opening Ceremony, discussed the literary influences on ‘the greatest show on earth’ to students at Hope University as part of our Hope Readers project.

Reading in Secure Environments (RISE), funded by Arts Council England, launched in October to bring high-quality, challenging contemporary writers to readers in secure criminal justice and mental health care settings in partnership with literature festivals around the UK. So far Jackie Kay, Joe Dunthorne, Inua Ellams and Michael Stewart have taken part. You can read more on the RISE blog.

We also delivered dozens of workshops, presentations and key note talks at national and international conferences and literature festivals including: LSE Literary Festival; Personality Disorder Conference, Northern Ireland; Book and Publishing Studies conference Antwerp; Festival of the World Summit, London’s Southbank Centre; Prisoner Action Net Conference; and TEDx Observer.

Online

This blog now gets over 16,000 visits a month, our Twitter followers are well over 4000 and we’ve got an ever growing number of Facebook friends. Are you one of them?

Sep10ber (#Sep10ber), to celebrate Get Into Reading’s tenth birthday, got our social media channels buzzing with our ‘Perfect 10s’ questions – asking such things as ‘What was your favourite book when you were 10?’

Media

Our family reading project at Egremont Primary School, Wirral appeared on ITV Granada Reports at (watch here), the Guardian Book Blog published ‘The Reader Organisation: a mutual improvement society for modern times’ and the Huffington Post UK, featured a piece on our work, ‘How One Charity Is Tackling Complex Mental Health Problems Using The Simple Power Of Reading’.

Awards

Jane Davis was named as one of 50 New Radicals in Britain by NESTA and The Observer in February, and in November, was shortlisted for one of Liverpool’s Leaders Awards.

SDP1528-0174Our Get Into Reading Pilot Project for Older People with Dementia and Carers in Scotland won the EDGE 2012 Award for Social Innovation in community engagement.

The Unforgotten Coat, written for The Reader Organisation’s ‘Our Read’ 2011 by Frank Cottrell Boyce, won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2012.

Our Big Lottery funded Merseyside Reader Volunteer Scheme was ‘Highly Commended’ in the ‘Encouraging Health and Wellbeing’ category at the North West We Can Empowerment Awards in December.

Read to Lead courses

Two women looking inquisitively at their GIR groupWe’ve run 27 Read to Lead training courses up and down the country this year, in a variety of locations, including Dartington Hall (Devon) and Kensington Palace, and for Libraries Northern Ireland, South West Yorkshire Partnership Foundation Trust, Hereford Primary Care Trust, South East Wales Libraries, and Gwynedd County Council – in Welsh!

We’ve also delivered lots of masterclasses as CPD for our trained practioners, A Little, Aloud workshops and a learning exchange visit to our sister project in Denmark, Laeseforeningen.

Publications

ALittleAloud for Children cover online

Our second read aloud anthology, A Little, Aloud for Children (David Fickling) was published in June and was summer chosen as a Book of The Year by the Financial Times.

Four fabulous issues of The Reader magazine have been published this year, including interviews with Jeanette Winterson and David Morrissey, an extract from Tim Parks’ latest novel, Brian Patten and Bernard O’Donoghue as Poets on their Work, and new fiction from David Constantine and John Kinsella.

New Commissions

Our new Get Into Reading commissions this year have included: West London Mental Health Trust, 5 Boroughs Partnership Trust, North West Strategic Health Authority, Maudsley Charity, Greater Manchester Probation Trust, HMP Wormwood Scrubs, Personality Disorder – PIPES and North East Prison Project, Devon Libraries, Big Lottery Wales, HMP Reading (AB Charitable Foundation), Southwark Innovation Fund, and Alzheimer’s Society.

If you still want more, you can read our 2011/12 Annual Report here.

A huge thank you to everyone who has helped to make it all happen – and roll on 2013!

Happy Christmas and all the very best for the New Year.

Visiting Laeseforningen

By Mary Weston, our Mental Health Project Manager

I’ve been visiting our sister organisation in Denmark, Læseforeningen, (The Reading Society) – one of the most exciting trips I’ve made in a long time.  On Monday I joined Mette Steenberg, Karen Marie Larsen and Nanna Holm at the residential training they were delivering at Hald Hovedgaard near Viborg.  Hald is a beautiful 18th century manor house next to a wooded lake, now used as a writers’ and translators’ retreat.  Like Burton Manor in Cheshire (where we have run our Residential Training Courses in the past), it’s charming and peaceful and isolated enough to keep you focussed on the task at hand.  The trainees were ‘librarians and others’ (as they put it), all there because they had been enthused by the shared reading idea, and keen to set up groups in mental health and dementia settings, with young people and with immigrant groups.
Laeseforeningen is structured as a membership organisation, and most of the work is being done voluntarily.  On the drive back to Aarhus, Nanna explained to me that this is the way they are most likely to gain credibility:  people are joining them (and supporting them financially) because they have been inspired, and out of a sense of wanting to shape a ‘civil society’.  That phrase seems to me to capture something important about the Danish ethos:  their comprehensive health and welfare system doesn’t seem to have undermined their sense of social responsibility.  Quite the opposite. The Danes have the most economically equal society on the planet; as far as I could tell their health service is well-funded and rationally ordered.
It was intriguing, and a bit counter-intuitive to learn that having good things in place did actually make it more difficult for Laeseforeningen to find funds.  Applying for a grant to work in, say, health, they are sometimes met with the notion that ‘the health service already has plenty of public funding’, although the Danish public sector is facing cuts and restructuring.
Our colleagues in Laeseforeningen may need to find new ways of sowing the seed in Denmark’s well-cultivated soil, but it was wonderful to see that the essential ethos – the faith that sharing literature is a way of building a civil society (remember that phrase ‘community glue’?) – can inspire people in such a different place.

The Reading Revolution grows in Denmark

Jane Davis and Mette Steenberg

Mette Steenberg, pictured here (right) with Jane, has set up Læseforeningen, our sister organisation in Denmark, to implement the shared reading model in Aarhus and other cities in the country.  Last week Jane visited Mette in Denmark to run an interactive session at the Next Library Conference in Aarhus, and deliver a Showcase-style event in Copenhagen to further spread the Reading Revolution. (You can read more about Jane’s Danish trip – including a liquorice pipe – on her blog.)

If your Danish is good (or, if like me you have to use Google Translate), you can read an online article published in a national newspapers, Kristeligt Dagblad, about the health impacts of shared reading. ‘Litteratur er god medicin’ was written by Benjamin Krasnik, who attended the event in Copenhagen.

The Denmark Diary

Casi Dylan, TRO Training Manager, is currently out in Aarhus, Denmark, overseeing the development of a new training course which ran over the weekend with TRO’s official Danish partners, Laeseforeningen (‘The Reading Society’). Here are a few excerpts from her Denmark Diary:

27th October 2010

Things Taking Shape

It’s 6pm, twilight, the reading group is about to begin. Twelve of us are sat around the table in a community centre at the heart of the city. We’re going to read Emma by Jane Austen. All very familiar territory for shared reading, you might say. Only that this group is at the heart of Aarhus in Denmark, and the twelve gathered around the table are taking part not only in a shared reading group, but a research study in which the benefits of this experience will be measured against numerous physiological and neurological outcomes. Brains have been scanned, blood samples taken. They’re not sure what to expect, and neither am I. The reading, after all, will be in Danish. It begins:

Emma Woodhouse var smuk, velbegavet og rig; hun ver lys af sin dog boede i et hjem, hvor der var godt at vaere; saaledes kunne det se ud til, at noget af det bedste, til vaerelsen kan byde, var faldet i nendes lod.

It’s a fascinating position to be in, so familiar with the shared reading model at work but so distanced from what is being read and said.  I hear names repeated time and again, jumping out to me from an unintelligible background: Miss Woodhouse, Mr Knightley, Miss Smith. Mette, the group facilitator, who only an hour or so ago introduced me to Aarhus, is introducing the group to Highbury and its inhabitants; I understand her expressive eyes, if not her words, and I read her gestures. What is that she draws with her finger on the table? A shape? A triangle. Ah yes, I see – Miss Woodhouse, Mr Knightley, Miss Smith. I continue to observe the group, and I begin to see how somehow this triangle drawn on the table resonates and expands itself into the group’s own gestures. For the first hour or so the readers were inhibited, their gestures, if any, directed in straight lines towards Mette. Back and forth, no more. As the reading goes on, however, they relax, move more, pick up on each other’s comments, point to the book in Mette’s hands and to each other as they speak. Relationships are taking shape, modelled by the book, made real by Mette’s hand. It is as though they are weaving something that binds them and the book together, and although I don’t understand what is being said, I know that I’ve seen this happen before.

These are only the first few hours of my visit to Aarhus to work with Mette on the development of Laeseforeningen and already I can tell that it’s going to be a busy time. This research project is only one of many activities in which she is involved; our main piece of work this weekend will be to run a training course for 16 volunteers who will run shared reading groups under the auspices of her new Danish ‘Reading Society’. I’m no longer surprised at how adaptable the trailblazing work of Get Into Reading is to new settings, cultures, languages – we’ve seen it work so many times before – but it is always a thrill to see new projects take shape in front of your eyes.

28th October 2010

Busy Busy Busy

Not much time to write today – certainly no time to sightsee! A busy day planning the training course at Mette’s office at the university, and then moving swiftly on to the community centre for the second reading group for the research study. It was a fantastic group – everyone engaged with the book and relaxed into it straight away, much more quickly than last night’s group. I wonder what contributed to this different response? Combination of personalities? Mette and I having relaxed into the setting ourselves? Better biscuits?

During the break one group member came up to me to say how inspiring it was to hear of the work that TRO does in the UK, and how excited she was to be a revolutionary herself. She spoke not in the language of someone taking part in a research study, but of someone who was high on the thrill of a new experience. Another group member, in keeping with the Danish reputation for frankness, told me that: ‘It is already not as boring as I thought it was going to be.’ High praise indeed!

Had a beer in Aarhus’ Latin Quarter to celebrate before heading back to the university guesthouse’s very comfortable bed. Ideal for weary travellers!