Get Involved: International Day of Charity

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Today is the UN’s International Day of Charity, a day to celebrate the organisations and individuals who help to create real social bonds and inclusive, more resilient societies.

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The Reader Organisation in Inside Time: An inside view of shared reading

inside timeThe Reader Organisation’s activity in Criminal Justice settings is expanding all the time, with regular shared reading groups being delivered in prisons, secure hospitals and offenders institutes throughout the UK each week providing opportunities to reform, rehabilitate and reduce reoffending through the reading of great literature in a safe environment. Not only does the use of shared reading in secure environments create a foundation for a collaborative approach to reducing criminal behaviour, it allows the space for offenders and ex-offenders to transform their attitudes, thinking and behaviour through a medium that has a direct personal impact as well as helping to contribute to stronger and safer societies in the long run.

Our work sharing reading within Criminal Justice settings is highlighted in Inside Time, the national monthly newspaper for prisoners in the UK. Inside Time creates a ‘voice’ for its readership – currently standing at an estimated 50,000 – providing articles and comments that seek to be informative, interesting and entertaining, and a key link to the outside world for its readers as well as connecting them with their family and friends. Amongst its contributions is cultural content including  a regular poetry slot, which has produced 5 volumes of the Inside Poetry publication.

Each month in the paper, a member of TRO’s Criminal Justice team provide an insight into a shared reading group session that has taken place through a poem or extract from a short story and a snapshot of the discussion that has accompanied the piece of literature. Always interesting and often revealing, the columns show how vital great literature is as a sounding board, connector between people, thoughts and emotions – and in many situations, as a lifeline.

Here on The Reader Online we’ll be regularly featuring the TRO Inside Time articles on a monthly basis, bringing you our latest column hot off the press and giving you a closer view of shared reading in secure settings. To begin the feature, we’re visiting a piece from the archives, originally published in September 2013. Wigan Project Worker Val Hannan takes us into a session at her group in Hindley YOI (funded by Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust), where the group shared the poem Making a Fist by Naomi Shihab Nye.

We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.

—Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

– Reprinted from Tender Spot: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2008) by Naomi Shihab Nye, with kind permission of the poet

After I’ve read, the group take turns reading a stanza each. We begin with the epigraph: ‘We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.’

‘It’s strange,’ says C, ‘intriguing’.

‘It’s basically saying that everyone’s going to die’ says T.

C continues: ‘Some of us are alive but some of us are dead and we’re all going down the same path – we’re alive but we’re all dying.’

Suddenly F repeats the last stanza: ‘‘I who did not die, who am still living…/clenching and opening one small hand’ – This is me. It’s about me. It’s how I feel. I look at my hand – I always do that.’ F holds his fist up. ‘What’s that on my hand? Have I got blood on my hand? These thoughts are always at the back of my head.’

Lady Macbeth’s anguish is vivid in my mind.

‘It wasn’t premeditated,” offers T, seeking to comfort. Others nod, faces showing sympathy.

F says he is fine; he wants to continue.

We look at the first stanza.

‘What could the drum be?’ I ask.

‘It’s his pulse or heart beat getting slower,’ says T.

‘The narrator is only seven at this point – what about that?’

‘He’s getting scared and getting further away from home – going somewhere he doesn’t know,’ says C.

‘It could be about fate,’ says T. ‘He’s leaving his soul or one life behind.’

I ask about the image used to describe how the person felt: ‘My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.’

‘When I first came down to jail, I felt like that,’ says M. ‘My stomach had gone, I was only 12.’

I ask about the lines: ‘When you can no longer make a fist’?

‘This is when you can’t move, when you don’t have any strength.’

‘It makes me think of when you’re in your cell,’ says, C, ‘and you want to get out and you pound the bed and walls in anger and you can’t do anything and then you just get really weak and end up crying with the anger.’

They all agree with this and talk about how they often feel there is no release for their pent-up anger and frustration.

I ask about the image of the journey and why the ‘backseat’?

‘It could be the journey of life,’ says T.

‘It’s life as a car journey,’ says M.

‘But why the backseat?’

‘The back is in the past. The front seat is moving forward but you’re in the back seat of life when you don’t know what’s going to happen,’ says C.

‘What about borders – what could they be?’

‘It could be death – the border between life and death,’ says T.

‘Past and future,’ says M. ‘Childhood to being an adult.’

We focus on the final image: ‘clenching and opening one small hand.’

‘It’s your pulse, a heartbeat,’ says M.

‘It’s like stress,’ says F, ‘when you have to keep opening and closing your hand. I do it all the time.’

We discuss how our thoughts control the way we feel and conclude the worst prison is not a physical one, but the one we make for ourselves in our own mind.

You can find Inside Time on the web here:

Find out more about The Reader Organisation’s work in Criminal Justice settings, alongside Reader Stories from readers in various secure settings, on our website:

Featured Poem: Childhood Home by Lemn Sissay

Lemn and Jane 2 - c.Steve Wasserman RMSYL
Credit Steve Wasserman,

Last week’s Featured Poem previewed our latest RISE event with John Burnside and Rita Ann Higgins in Liverpool in association with Writing on the Wall and In Other Words, and this week we’re reflecting back on another brilliant RISE event which took place last month with Leigh and Wigan Words Together Festival with award winning poet, writer, broadcaster and patron of The Reader Organisation Lemn Sissay.

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RISE: Lemn Sissay In Conversation with Jane Davis

rise colourLemn Sissay In Conversation with Jane Davis
Monday 8th April, 7.30pm
The Mill at the Pier, Wigan

The first Reading in Secure Environments (RISE) event is taking place this month in Wigan with award-winning poet, writer, broadcaster and The Reader Organisation patron Lemn Sissay. As part of Leigh and Wigan Words Together Festival and RISE, Lemn will be visiting HMP Hindley on Monday 8th April to read some of his work and talk about his writing for young people with Get Into Reading group members.

The same evening, Lemn will appear at the accompanying public event, speaking to director of The Reader Organisation Jane Davis at The Mill at the Pier in Wigan. Lemn will talk to Jane about his visit to HMP Hindley earlier in the day, read from his work and discuss the power of reading upon his childhood growing up in Wigan.

This event promises to be a fascinating night in the company of two passionate and engaging readers and speakers, so make sure you book your tickets without delay.

Tickets cost £5 and can be reserved by e-mailing or calling 07928 818 779. For more information on the Leigh and Wigan Words Together Festival, view the online brochure.

To keep up to date with all the latest news from the RISE events, and to share your thoughts, head to our RISE blog. You can also let us know what you think if you’re heading to Lemn and Jane’s event on Twitter: @thereaderorg #RISE

Get Into Reading Wellbeing Partnerships expand across North West

Our new North West Mental Health team with Mary Weston – (l-r) Selina, Ali, Claire, Steffi and Michael

Today is World Mental Health Day and The Reader Organisation is proud to announce that it has been commissioned to deliver its unique and revolutionary shared reading model, Get Into Reading, in every Mental Health Trust in the North West of England.

A commission from the North West Strategic Health Authority will develop partnerships with Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Calderstones Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Cumbria Partnership Trust, Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, and Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust. The project will be led by The Reader Organisation, NHS Cheshire, and Warrington and Wigan PCT Cluster.

Readers-in-Residences are already established in Mersey Care NHS Trust – our first and significantly successful commission of Get Into Reading in healthcare, which was recently recommissioned for the fifth year running – Greater Manchester West NHS Trust, and 5 Boroughs Partnership Trust.

The appointment of the new North West Project will see 24 sustainable new Get Into Reading groups  established by 5 new Reader Organisation Project Workers, who will also provide in-house training to allow NHS staff, including psychologists and occupational therapists, to take over group facilitation. The groups take place in settings within the community, through to in-patient and secure units, spreading the positive effects of shared reading for individual and collective wellbeing far and wide.

Mary Weston, The Reader Organisation’s Mental Health Project Manager, says:

 “With three successful Reader-in-Residency projects running in the North West region, this is a wonderful chance for us to show what we can do. Reading groups are a space in which service users and staff come together as whole people to share the thoughts and feelings that great writing inspires: we believe Get Into Reading has a key place in wellbeing and recovery agendas across the country.”

According to the North West Equality and Diversity Strategy, 14 of the area’s PCTs are in the 50 worst nationally for health inequality. 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems during their lifetime, and Get Into Reading provides increased personal confidence, reduced social isolation, and crucially, a sense of stability and support, which are key factors in preventing mental health problems. Get Into Reading is an non-medical intervention that is accessible to all, and has brought praise from healthcare professionals and group members alike.:

“Get Into Reading is one of the most significant developments to have taken place in mental health practice in the last ten years.” – Dr David Fearnley, Medical Director, Mersey Care NHS Trust (RCPsych ‘Psychiatrist of the Year 2009’)

“Being part of a group is special – it’s a bit more than just reading a book. I was never a great reader beforehand, but this group is something that I have become attached to; it means a lot to me to be part of it and it has helped me in my life outside the group as well.” – Get Into Reading group member, Mersey Care NHS Trust

A Fitness Diary from Wembley Stadium

You know you’re taking the 5k run seriously when even on arguably the best day of your life, and within an hour of a feeling of pure elation, you find yourself doing a spot of training for the run raising money to support our excellent work reading with looked-after children.

On Saturday I watched the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at the iconic Wembley Stadium, seeing Wigan Warriors defeat Leeds Rhinos 28-18 in a very tense match that did little to help my blood pressure. On the train down to London I was reading This Sporting Life by David Storey, a novel set in the days when professionalism was fairly new to the sport, and Arthur Machin has to juggle managing his personal life with the physical demands and politics of rugby league in a working class town. It was a brilliant little setup for the match on Saturday. (This is a Reader blog post, I had to cram a reference to literature in somehow!)

When you’re training for a run there are a few important things to remember:

1. Warm Up 

Supposedly the best way to do this is by having a few minutes of light exercise. Instead, I jumped up and down like a little kid who had eaten too many sweets whenever Wigan scored, best exhibited when Tommy Leuluai scored a clinching try in the final minutes and the full-time hooter sounded. I did some chest exercises, mainly by roaring ‘advice’ at the referee. A final aerobic workout consisted of dancing to Depeche Mode’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ during post match celebrations in the stands.

2. Do Some Stretches and Wear the Right Gear.

T-shirt, shorts, running shoes etc. Stretch your calves, quads, glutes, intercostal muscles and any more I’ve missed out on. I put my shorts and trainers on and did my stretches in a cubicle in Wembley mens’ toilets. Not a sentence I anticipated writing a couple of months ago. Of course, you feel like a bit of a wally walking down the seemingly ridiculous amount of steps at Wembley (another warm up) whilst dressed like someone who should be in the gym, but when the bloke next to you is wearing a red and white checked hat or is dressed like a chicken then everything is relative.

3. Get Running!

So a lap of Wembley commenced and although this is far from a remarkable distance, it remains challenging. Problems being – you’re carrying a bag of various things, you may have to run past dejected Leeds fans whilst wearing opposition colours and there are thousands and thousands of people pouring out of the stadium, making this an assault course. Rather than be put off, I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to practice overtaking and a chance to appreciate the challenges faced by Anna when she narrowly avoided a catastrophic collision with an old lady.

There is something quite brilliant about running around Wembley Stadium as you get to see all sides of the ground and the various people celebrating with big grins on their faces, and jogging past the statue of Bobby Moore whilst filled with glee and adrenaline.

4. Warm Down

A bit of light exercise, such as walking down Wembley Way towards the tube station. Standing on a packed tube is excellent detox as it can help flush out your sweat if the run hasn’t already.

It would be absolutely fantastic if everyone could help give the children we read with a smile as big as the one on my face late on Saturday afternoon. All funds raised will go to this great cause, and you can make a donation by clicking here.

Pottering About

Posted on behalf of Rachel Salmon, Wirral Project Worker.

Since taking on the reading group at Arch Initiatives (an aftercare support centre for drug rehabilitation) I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr Stephen Potter. Stephen contacted TRO here at The Lauries, Birkenhead about the possibilities of starting a Get into Reading group at Arch. Stephen was attending the centre, and as a writer himself, has always been aware of the healing power of words.

After a tepid start, the GIR group at Arch is well underway, and although Stephen has completed his time there, he still continues to drop by The Lauries for a catch up, or perhaps for the odd cup of tea at Arch- post group.

Being a Wirral lad himself, and currently a non-driver, it was whilst scooting along on yet another double decker that Stephen began to wonder how far said bus could actually take him. It turns out (as many a reader may know) that Arriva buses can take you as far as Wigan to the east and into the depths of North Wales to the west. So what? I hear you cry? Well luckily for us Stephen’s head works differently, and he’s seen it as an opportunity to set off on an adventure, as well as an exercise in writing. Kitted out with a 7 day bus pass, note book and pen, he left Birkenhead bus station in search of the pot of gold at the end of the bus route. Along the way, Stephen will be writing stories and commentaries on the people who get on the bus, and the towns he passes through. Watch this space for future instalments!

Along with Arriva buses, the organisations that have helped Stephen in his recovery have sponsored him, enabling him to stay in Bed and Breakfasts throughout the week-pop up rooms of one’s own if you will.

To sponsor Stephen’s trip, please go to

All money raised will be divided between Advocacy in Wirral, Arch Initiaves, Charles Thomson’s Mission, Spider Project, Action in Addiction, and Wirral CVS –  all of which aided Stephen’s recovery, and Zoe’s Place ( who offer palliative, respite and terminal care for babies/infants aged from birth to five years old) which is Arriva’s nominated charity.

The Positive Impact of Get Into Reading

Earlier today the BBC reported on the unfortunate rise in the number of people suffering from depression in England as a consequence of the recession. Prescriptions of Prozac have risen more than 40% over the past four years whilst “GPs and charities say they are increasingly being contacted by people struggling with debt and job worries.”

We recently conducted a study measuring the impact Get Into Reading projects in Wigan had on the lives of participants. The results were incredibly positive, with GIR having a positive effect on literacy, people’s participation in cultural events, employability and their mental health.

The participants of the survey came from 14 different groups in the Wigan area, with settings including Making Space mental health day centre, libraries, homeless centres and the Prince’s Trust in Leigh. The majority of participants had been attending groups for between three and nine months when surveyed.

Impact on Mental Health

75% of those surveyed said they were more able to relax following GIR, 66% felt more positive about life and 59% felt they were now more capable of dealing with stress. 84% said they felt more confident reading aloud as a consequence of being a member of a GIR group.

Excellent results in improving mental welfare are not exclusive to Wigan, as Alan Yates, Chief Executive of Mersey Care NHS Trust testifies:

“I can identify people within Get Into Reading at Mersey Care NHS Trust who otherwise would have needed in-patient care had it not been for the support and benefit of the groups. Groups cost about £6 per person per session; by comparison, an in-patient stay costs on average £9,000.”

Impact on Employability

With communication and interpersonal skills being more important than ever when applying for a job, GIR has helped people develop those skills that could see them combat the effects of the recession and help them into work. After joining Get Into Reading 94% experienced improved confidence in participating in group discussion, 75% were more confident socialising generally, 78% felt more confident in reading factual information and 63% said they felt more confident in applying for jobs.

78% of those surveyed said that GIR was both an opportunity to meet people they wouldn’t normally and “An opportunity to develop relationships with people whose personal circumstances are completely different from [their] own.”

It is clear that Get Into Reading has played a massive part in many people’s lives, improving their well-being and outlook. GIR groups offer everyone a relaxed, social environment and the results from our Wigan survey indicate that participants have gained significant benefit from reading aloud with fellow members and socialising with a variety of people, leading to improved confidence that could help all members – including those with finance-based welfare difficulties – in the future.

Get Into Reading in Wigan

Posted on behalf of Val Hannan, GIR Manager, Wigan

We have recently employed a new ‘Get into Reading’ facilitator in Worsley Hall, Wigan through the Future Jobs Fund. Andrea Jones says that after being unemployed for 14 years this opportunity has ‘enriched my life’. Andrea has started to run weekly reading sessions in care homes as well as a children’s group and a group at Bramble House Community Centre where women from the Worsley Hall estate come together every Friday to read aloud and discuss stories over tea and cake.

Andrea says that she feels much happier now:

‘I have learned to utilise my time constructively and the longer I have been a facilitator the more I am able to retain information. It seems like a huge cloud has been lifted. I go to bed now because I’m tired not because I’m bored.’

Val Hannan (left) with Andrea Jones at a Wigan Council event

Call for support for people with dementia and their carers

A report published today by the Alzheimer’s Society calls for better support for people with dementia who are living at home.

There are 750,000 people living with dementia in the UK, two-thirds of whom live in their own homes in the community, while one-third live in care homes.

Based on a survey of 1,436 people with dementia and carers and 989 home care workers, ‘Support. Stay. Save.’ found that lack of support for full time carers was leading to people being forced to move into care homes or even be admitted to hospital, unnecessarily.

Kevin Whately, who is an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society pointed out that,

‘Reassuringly, this report also demonstrates that there is a care workforce out there which really wants to do everything it can to help vulnerable people such as those with dementia. However, they need more training and more time and we need to mend the crumbling system within which they operate.’

Training and Time are two words which seem to crop up again and again when talking about care for those with dementia and the lack of both appear key in creating the ‘crumbling system’ described here.

Get Into Reading is working with Wigan Memory Service to deliver reading groups for people with dementia who are living at home and their carers. Four members of the Memory Service team have undertaken training to facilitate GIR groups as part of a network of support groups which help people remain socially engaged in their local community and keep minds active. We are keen to develop this work across the UK and offer more people the opportunity to join a group. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Katie Clark

You can read the full report here