Our extremely popular public reading event, based on a tradition made famous by Dickens, is coming to the Southbank Centre on Sunday 12th October as part of the London Literature Festival. This year’s festival concentrates on the themes of freedom, justice and democracy, celebrating the optimism of the human spirit and the ability of the arts to transform and change lives, and we will hear some of the greatest classic and contemporary literature that touches upon and celebrates the freedoms and struggles faced in human life.
Joining us for the London Penny Readings are special guest readers including writer, The Guardian columnist and patron of The Reader Organisation Erwin James and Frank Hewetson, one of Greenpeace’s ‘Arctic 30’ activists who was held in prison in Russia for protesting against oil exploration in 2013.
We will also be joined on the day by some of our shared reading group members from our London project, where we currently run a number of groups in a variety of community settings, and for whom literature has played a special role in helping to shape their lives:
“It’s been cathartic and touched things in me that I didn’t expect to be touched. In a very organic way. We are all from somewhere else, very different backgrounds and we’ve found something in common.” – shared reading group member, Southwark
The debate on books in prisons is still a burning issue since months after the announcement of rules to ban prisoners from receiving books through the post. A petition to get the ban overturned – supported by The Reader Organisation – has received over 28,000 signatures, and there have been various campaigns, including the very active #booksforprisoners hashtag on Twitter which highlights the reformative power of literature.
Our work sharing reading in prisons and other criminal justice settings around the UK demonstrates how literature can have a massive impact on the lives of prisoners and ex-offenders. The sharing of personal experiences through books offers opportunities for prison reform, rehabilitation and prevention of further crime, as well as improving health and wellbeing, increasing confidence and providing the chance for self-reflection. Simply put, our work with people such as N shows what effect reading has on opening up prisoners’ lives outside of their cells:
“You hear a lot of chat about people’s crimes in this place. In this room we’re talking about other things, so many other things. And we’re listening to each other. I’ve learned that we’re all essentially the same.”
Our friends from Give A Book, who facilitate the gifting of books to charities, organisations and people who need them the most, have recently set up a new Book Room in HMP Wormwood Scrubs. The room is designed to support the existing library within the prison, encouraging prisoners to read recreationally in an informal setting.
The Book Room has proved immensely popular since its opening, with an influx of donations of great literature from sources including Granta, English PEN and Cambridge Literary Festival. There has also been some great feedback from the prisoners on the wing, which you can read on the Give A Book blog.
There are plans to open a Book Room on all wings of the prison, and it’s a fantastic initiative which The Reader Organisation wholeheartedly supports. Congratulations to all at Give A Book for the success of the Book Room and best of luck for it continuing!
You’ll also find more about the subject of books in prisons in Issue 54 of The Reader magazine, which is out now. Writer and patron of The Reader Organisation Erwin James writes about how the power of a good book gave shape to a profound dream he had while he was in prison, and this issue’s interview is with campaigning barrister and director of Just for Kids LawShauneen Lambe, who speaks about her work with prisoners on death row in Louisiana.
“You hear a lot of chat about people’s crimes in this place. In this room we’re talking about other things, so many other things. And we’re listening to each other. I’ve learned that we’re all essentially the same.” – See more at: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reader-stories/reader-stories-greater-manchester-probation-trust.aspx#sthash.HWubm8yT.dpu
At The Reader Organisation we’re all about sharing literature, whether it be in our weekly shared reading groups or reading poems together in our staff meetings and regular staff Think Days, and another idea is helping to spread the love of reading in communities across the world in a way that makes the most of great books and the surrounding environment.
The Little Free Library originated in Wisconsin, America as a testimony to reading. From a small start, the popularity of Little Free Libraries has grown and there’s now a World Map of them collated, with a total of 15,000 the latest conservative estimate. All the Little Free Libraries are unique, small but perfectly formed and united in an overall mission to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide, while also building a strong sense of community in the sharing not only of books but skills, creativity and wisdom across generations. All values that we wholeheartedly agree with!
Little Free Libraries can be found in all manner of places, working on the concept of ‘take a book, return a book’. Visitors of the Little Free Library are also encouraged to bring back another book to donate and contribute to the collection.
And it turns out that some Little Free Libraries have popped up close to where TRO are based…London’s first Little Free Library has been set up on Powerscroft Road, Clapton in the Borough of Hackney, for both adults and children to participate able to choose from an eclectic selection of books. Other Little Free Libraries have since followed suit, with more book swaps appearing around the capital, including one in Walthamstow on Coppermill Lane. One of our London Team Reader-in-Residences Megg lives close by and snapped some wonderful pictures which show just how cute the Library is.
Also, very near to our base at Calderstones Mansion House is where you’ll find the Little Free Library of Liverpool. Set up by Andy Pearson and his daughter, the Library offers a community book swap with a rather full collection (though they’re always looking for more donations). The popularity of the Little Free Library means that there’s plenty of chances for more Libraries to be set up across the city, but do check them out if you’re in the area: you’ll find them on 14 Middlefield Road, Allerton, or you can check out their blog: http://littlelibraryliverpool.blogspot.co.uk/
Here’s to many more Little Free Libraries in the future!
It’s Volunteers Week 2014, an annual event which takes place on 1st-7th June. Volunteers Week celebrates the important contribution made by millions of volunteers to organisations and businesses around the UK, with a range of events, ceremonies and campaigns running across the country during the week to value the achievements of volunteers and encourage people to take part in a volunteering project.
The Reader Organisation offers volunteering opportunities to a variety of different individuals in a number of regions that we currently work in. From sharing reading with some of the most vulnerable people in society to helping us push forward a bilingual reading revolution, all of our volunteers are supported and are a highly valued part of the Reader family.
One of our biggest volunteering projects is ongoing in Barnet, North London. We have recently built on our existing volunteer work in London with two new projects, Reading for the Brain (a project reading with people living with dementia) and Altogether Better (an intergenerational reading project). We’re currently recruiting for volunteers for these two projects in both group leader and one-to-one reading roles, with full training and support provided by TRO.
One of our current volunteers, Liz, has been sharing reading as part of the Barnet project since 2011. Starting off by reading within a community centre in Hendon, she wanted to gain a different experience of facilitation and is now reading in a Jewish Care home with residents who have differing forms of dementia. Here, she shares her story of being a volunteer faciltator with TRO.
“After my training, I began running a community group with another trainee. It was helpful to share the facilitation; alternating weekly, discussing issues that arose in the group and finding new material. We each chose poems to use in our sessions, but would short-list several books together before asking the group members’ opinions. We valued the monthly facilitator meetings – which are still ongoing – where we could share experiences and ideas with others in similar settings and have feedback from the Project Leader, Paul. As the group got to know each other, through reading and sharing ideas, they became more supportive of each other, with genuinely caring relationships. At times strong views were expressed by one particular individual, which others found challenging. As facilitators we developed ways to ‘contain’ this and the group members learned to manage the conversations themselves.
An elderly lady, J, took great pleasure in seeing friendly faces each week and the ‘work out for her brain’ as she called it. She attended each week with her daughter and on one or two occasions her grand-daughter. J at times brought poems she had written which she shared after the group. She said she enjoyed hearing the views of group members of all ages; they varied from 24 to 80. Sometimes she would arrive in physical pain and reading seemed to help distract and relax her.
I co-facilitate the Jewish Care group in Hendon with the activities co-ordinator from the home, who also trained with TRO. We only use poems, not fictional extracts or books, as they work well with the needs of the members. Over the 7 months of the group we have seen residents’ mental health change with one lady becoming very depressed and another with chronic anxiety. It helps to share facilitation with someone who is aware of the attendees’ needs and as I have got to know them, I have found the facilitation easier and attendees are benefitting more.In the residential home I have adapted my practice as a facilitator in several ways.
M has very little sight, poor short-term memory and when not in the group is very anxious and finds it hard to relax. I print the poem in as large a font as possible to fit on one or two sheets of paper and we usually read the poem through twice at the beginning, once by the facilitator and then perhaps by sighted members together. I try to read at a steady pace in a loud, clear voice, adding appropriate expression to help keep attention. Often I choose poems that have a strong visual picture to help those less sighted to imagine the ‘scene’ and connect with the poem. M always listens very carefully, laughing and showing expression on her face. She often comments about the poem after hearing it or when we re-read a line. It is especially important to pick up on this promptly as she forgets the poem and her comment quickly and can’t refer to the text as a prompt. Like others, she questions, listens to others, expresses pleasure and appears to relax throughout the session.
It has been a pleasure to see the group pay attention to each other in the short time we have for tea and cake at the beginning. This has grown as the ladies feel secure and familiar in the setting. At times I have brought in articles which relate to the poem, e.g. dishes of spices to smell or purple jewellery and scarves to pass round and feel. Passing round and commenting on items together helps interaction, however small.”
We’re currently recruiting for volunteers for our Reading for the Brain Dementia Project (Group Leaders and One-on-One roles) and our Altogether Better intergenerational Project (Group Leader roles) in Barnet. For more information, please contact Paul Higgins: email@example.com or call 07985 718744.
The Reader Organisation will be appearing at not one but two upcoming literary festivals in London, giving you the chance to experience shared reading alongside a range of other exciting book-based events.
Next week, we’ll be part of Finchley Literary Festival where one of our trained volunteers will be leading two shared reading sessions on Thursday 29th May at North Finchley Library. Our volunteer programme in Barnet is ongoing, sharing reading with people living with dementia and across generations within the community, and people within the area will get an opportunity to be part of one of our groups, similar to those currently running across Barnet.
The two sessions will take place at 1-2pm and 2.30-3.30pm, with a maximum of 9 attendees at each session. Both sessions are free to attend but booking is required. You can book online via Eventbrite on the Finchley Literary Festival website.
For those in the South of the city, we’ll be taking part in the Literary Kitchen Festival with shared reading taster sessions on Monday 16th, Tuesday 17th, Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th June. All sessions will take place from 3-4pm at The Peckham Pelican and entry is free.
If you like what you hear at either festival then there are a range of open community shared reading groups happening weekly in Barnet and South London, as well as Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea. Take a look at our Reading with Us group map for a full list of groups in London: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reading-with-us
You can also keep up to date with TRO’s work in the capital by following @TheReaderLondon on Twitter.
Looking forward to sharing reading with you Londoners!
At Better with a Book in London last week, we heard the amazingly moving and inspiring stories of some of our Readers, including that of Jennifer who after attending a shared reading group with her nan went on to train to read with older people in the care home she works at in North London. Jennifer told us how she is using literature to connect with people living with dementia, exclaiming that shared reading is ‘the best thing’ for the residents she works with, making them ‘happy’ for an hour a week.
If you would like the chance to experience the power of shared reading, and learn the skills to enable others to get closer to great literature like Jennifer has, then you can join us for our next open Read to Lead course in the capital on 4th, 11th and 18thJune.
Exclusively designed by The Reader Organisation, Read to Lead is the only course that introduces you to the working practice of shared reading. Over a stimulating, inspiring and enriching three days you will discover how to use literature to its full effect in shared reading groups and learn the skills needed to start your own group within your community. Following the course you will gain access to exclusive and specially tailored Ongoing Learning provision, offering support and enabling you to further your shared reading practice.
By attending Read to Lead, you can join the hundreds of shared reading practitioners across the UK and beyond who are sharing reading week on week with some of the most vulnerable and isolated people in society, ensuring that great literature is a legacy that all of us can share in.
“I realised there was so much more to becoming a facilitator than I had ever imagined. 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.” – Jennifer, shared reading facilitator and Activities Coordinator at Jewish Care, North London
Our London Read to Lead course runs on 4th, 11th and 18th June (consecutive Wednesdays) at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, 235 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H 8EP.
Places on Read to Lead cost £750 per person, including access to Ongoing Learning for 12 months. We offer one concessionary place of £250 on each course, and flexible payment options are available to all.
To apply for a place or for any queries about the course, please contact Literary Learning Coordinator Jennifer Kelly on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0151 207 7207.
For more information about Read to Lead and Ongoing Learning, see our website.
Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, 235 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8EP; – See more at: http://www.thereader.org.uk/courses/read-to-lead-london-june.aspx#sthash.gLnO2ulg.dpuf
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:
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.
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:
Incredibly moving, funny, raw stories from those attending groups with @thereaderorg
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 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:
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
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.
After 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 LordAlan 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-in–Residence 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.
At Better with a Book, The Reader Organisation’s National Conference, we’ll be exploring how the shared reading model pioneered by The Reader Organisation uses literature to improve mental health, stimulate emotional development, reduce social isolation and enhance quality of life. Throughout the day on Thursday 15th May in London, the practice of shared reading and its impact upon individuals, communities and organisations will be discussed in a range of illuminating sessions.
The shared reading movement is not only booming across the UK but has also travelled abroad thanks to our revolutionary training programme Read to Lead. We’ve made several visits over to Belgium to create shared reading practitioners who are furthering the Reading Revolution, and last month saw the launch of Het Lezercollectief (The Readers Collective), a cooperative network of readers inspired by the work of The Reader Organisation.
Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation Jane Davis sent her good wishes across to Belgium, and in a specially made video Jane talks about why she feels that sharing reading and bringing literature out into the community is so vital. From her own experience of being powerfully moved and affected by literature to the extraordinary impact it is having on the lives of others – including people in isolation cells in Broadmoor Hospital – shared reading has come a long way since The Reader Organisation’s beginnings. And why does reading need to be shared aloud instead of in our heads to have such a significant effect? This question and more are answered by watching on…
Discover more about shared reading and how it works within health, education, criminal justice and community settings with Jane and guest speakers including Lord Melvyn Bragg and Baroness Estelle Morris, as well as some of our Readers and commissioners, at Better with a Book at The British Library Conference Centre in London on Thursday 15th May.
Full day delegate places (including VAT, lunch and refreshments) cost £140, and are available to book via our website, by cheque or invoice.
Better with a Book, The Reader Organisation’s fifth annual National Conference, is coming to The British Library Conference Centre in London on Thursday 15th May, with booking now open. Join us and special guests including Lord Melvyn Bragg, Baroness Estelle Morris and Dr Alice Sullivan to explore how shared reading and literature can be utilised to improve mental health, stimulate emotional wellbeing and enhance quality of life.
Amongst the speakers at Better with a Book is Lord Alan Howarth, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing and previous Minister for Schools and Higher Education (1989-1992) and Minister for the Arts (1998-2001). Lord Howarth previously spoke about The Reader Organisation and his experience attending shared reading groups at last year’s Culture, Health and Wellbeing Conference, in a speech about the creative power of the arts to make an impact on the health of individuals and communities.
After visiting one of our regular groups at Wormwood Scrubs, Lord Howarth corresponded with the group’s leader and practitioner Megg Hewlett, Reader-in-Residence at West London Mental Health Trust, to comment on the positive effects he found that shared reading had in the highly secure environment:
“I’m in no doubt that this particular experience of reading helps the participants to think anew about moral, personal and social issues through focusing calmly and attentively on the texts and relating to other people engaged collaboratively in the same activity.” – Lord Alan Howarth to Megg Hewlett, After the Visit, The Reader 53
A series of the correspondence between Lord Howarth and Megg appears in Issue 53 of The Reader magazine, alongside an interview with columnist and former prisoner Erwin James. In light of the recent news restricting the access that prisoners have to books, the piece indicates how shared reading of quality literature can offer bonding, a greater sense of self-awareness and a better understanding of a world outside of the self to prisoners and those residing in secure environments, factors which help to contribute to reducing reoffending. Lord Howarth will be chairing a discussion between Megg and Nick Benefield, previously Joint Head of the NHS and NOMS Offender Personality Disorder Implementation Programme, about the effects of shared reading as a therapeutic intervention in secure environments as part of Better with a Book.
In their correspondence featuring in The Reader 53, Megg explains the challenges of reading within a secure environment to Lord Howarth, which include engaging often reluctant readers amongst other factors. Yet once they discover that reading can be enjoyable and uplifting, other significant benefits follow:
“For many I read with a book is as terrifying as climbing a vertical rockface with little equipment and no training. When they first come into the room the terror is often palpable – a being in its own right – and my job is to attend to that part of the person, settle it down, and help them find some joy in something that has only previously given pain or been of no interest. You’re looking for small indications but they mark big events. The most common comment I have in that group is ‘I didn’t think I’d like this but it’s not bad’. When I hear this I feel a tiny ripple of triumph.”
Hear Megg speak to Lord Howarth firsthand about the experiences of sharing reading in secure environments, and learn more about how shared reading works practically in Psychologically Informed Planned Environments (PIPEs) at Better with a Book.
Full day delegate places (including VAT, lunch and refreshments) cost £140. Booking is available online via Eventbrite or via cheque or invoice – full information on how to book using these payment methods is available on the Conference page of our website. For queries or more information, please contact Abigail on email@example.com or call 0151 207 7221.
For all the latest news on the Conference, follow the #betterwithabook hashtag on Twitter