Volunteers’ Week – Helen’s Reader Story

We kick start Volunteers’ Week with a powerful Reader Story from one of our volunteer Reader Leaders.

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The Spark Series: Shakespeare’s As You Like It

Ahead of his one-day literary workshop at Birkenhead Central Library, Tom tells us why he’s chosen to explore Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

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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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Poets Don’t Lie – The Reader Volunteer Anthology


Introducing our latest anthology, Poets Don’t Lie, created by and dedicated to the volunteers who make possible so many of our Shared Reading projects across the UK.
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The Reader Review of 2015

“If this life of ours
Be a good glad thing, why should we make us merry
Because a year of it is gone?”
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

P1000516It’s been a year of merriment as well as hard work, development and much Shared Reading around the UK, but before we close the momentous chapter of 2015, we want to take a little look back on just a few of the highlights of the past twelve months at The Reader.

From Liverpool, via Leicestershire, to London – Shared Reading across the country

Our Shared Reading model reaches people of all ages, demographics and settings, and in 2015 we’ve been able to bring Shared Reading to new places, as well as extending it across regions we’re already working in.

In Liverpool, there’s been a strong focus on our projects with children and young people where we’re encouraging a love of reading for pleasure from an early age, along with our partners at City of Readers. We’ve been delighted to help lead the way with reading as an early intervention in nurseries across the city and have ensured that a legacy can continue with little ones, parents and carers by the distribution of 300 Story Time boxes to nurseries and families. Our Off The Page project – our biggest volunteering project to date – started its three-year journey, reaching disadvantaged young people across the city with one-to-one weekly reading sessions that show how fulfilling connecting with books can be. Over in the Wirral, we started a similar project for Looked After Children, funded by Children in Need.

It’s been a big year for new projects in the North West, with Shared Reading coming to Knowsley, Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester, with groups for the community, older people living with dementia and carers. In Sheffield we celebrated the last four years of Shared Reading across Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust with a special event, and extended our volunteer-led project with Leicestershire Libraries in Leicester.

In the Southern parts of the country, our London projects went strength to strength with reading for wellbeing across South London, funded by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and the Maudsley Charity, a new memory loss group in conjunction with Tesco as part of our Barnet project and volunteering opportunities in West London. We brought Shared Reading to Somerset and our Wiltshire project for people living with dementia and memory loss became an award winner.

‘Great things are done when Men and Mountains meet’ – Shared Reading and Events

2015 was another year for wonderful events, many of which took place at our base at Calderstones Mansion. We welcomed Nicolette Jones and Frank Cottrell Boyce for a celebration of the 100 Modern Children’s Classics, hosted a summer spectacular of theatre which included the return of Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour with the classic Romeo and Juliet, brought together literature, art and music with Ad Hoc Creative EXPO and brought together more than a hundred of our group members, volunteers and trustees at an inspiring AGM.

Misty summit reading close upWe joined forces with City of Readers and Beanstalk to bring a day of reading across five locations in Liverpool with Anytime is Storytime in the summer, and brought something very Big to Calderstones in the form of The Big Dig, the first archaeological dig at the park to involve volunteers from the local community. Taking on big challenges was something of a theme this year as our team in North Wales organised the highest ever Shared Reading group at the peak of Mount Snowdon, overcoming all difficulties and perilous weather conditions.

The year rounded off in fine style with the twelfth annual Penny Readings at St George’s Hall. Another sell-out festive extravaganza saw captivating performances from Frank Cottrell Boyce, Maxine Peake and Shaun Evans.

A Year of The Reader – and other Great News

The Reader offered up more literary goodness and thought-provoking pieces throughout 2015, with issues offering contributions and interviews from names including Tim Parks, Ken Loach, Salley Vickers, David Constantine, Bill Bailey and Blake Morrison.

The value of Shared Reading continued to make an impact as we were shortlisted for the Social Enterprise Network Powerful Together Awards and the 2015 Natwest SE100 Awards, along with 21 other organisations in the UK. Our status as a social enterprise doing good for health and wellbeing rose as we were part of a rising contingent in the North West on the SE100 Index; even better news when we’re rapidly expanding our social enterprise work at Calderstones Mansion.

P1000158Our year ended with two big pieces of news that will ensure that our work can reach many more people who will benefit from Shared Reading can continue into the future. In November, we were delighted to continue our partnership with Social Business Trust as they awarded us funding and business support worth £1.5million which will help us to reach 27,000 people by 2018. Earlier this month we were able to secure the future of the International Centre for Reading at Calderstones with a confirmed grant of nearly £2million from Heritage Lottery Fund, rebuilding the future of Calderstones whilst celebrating its past heritage.

All of this made us very happy indeed – very appropriate considering that Jane made the Independent on Sunday’s Happy List this year!

We’re looking forward to the year to come, with two big things on the horizon early on – the launch of The Storybarn and A Little, Aloud With Love, the newest member of the A Little, Aloud anthology series. There’ll be lots more to come, including more stories from our group members and readers, and so as 2016 approaches we’re embracing Lord Tennyson’s outlook:

but Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

From all at The Reader, we wish you a happy and restful festive season.

“By being in the reading group, I exist as a person”: Anna’s Story

The Reader‘s Annual Report 2014/15 will be published later this month, in time to read at our 2015 AGM where we’ll be celebrating a year of successes and triumphs with our group members from across the country.

In the meantime we’re already getting into a celebratory spirit and offering a sneak peek into our Annual Report with some of our Reader Stories. Great literature is at the heart of everything we do, and the impact that reading great literature has upon our group members around the UK – whether seeming small on the surface or goes deeper to reveal something truly life-changing – give us our most remarkable highlights day by day, week by week, and year upon year.

Anna is one of our group members in Wirral, who has been going to shared reading sessions for nearly ten years. She is in her late fifties. One of our Wirral group leaders tells us more about Anna’s Story:

“Life has not always been kind to Anna. She admits that in the past she isolated herself because she was taking care of her uncle and she has also suffered from depression. Last year her daughter died. She continues to look after her father. Anna says:

“Depression is a flat feeling, everything is on one level. That flat feeling goes away when I am here and we’re reading poems and stories together. We might be crying or laughing but that flat feeling isn’t there. I used to be a very quiet and reserved person. But the reading group has brought me out of myself . It’s taken me ten years for me to do but I can put in an input now. I can give my opinions. When I read out loud someone’s listening to me. By being in the reading group I exist as a person. There has been a different Anna. but now I’ve got opinions and I interrupt.”

Anna is a volunteer at Central Park in Birkenhead and often shares the poems we read with one of her fellow volunteers. She attends two of our reading groups now and is a thoughtful, articulate and caring reader. She is also an enthusiastic advocate for shared reading:

“The reading group says – yes, you can come here. You can be part of society.”

Stay tuned to The Reader Online over the next couple of weeks for more Reader Stories in the run-up to our AGM.

Sea Fever, Fish and Chips: Merseyside Volunteers Celebration

From Christopher Lynn, Volunteer Assistant

‘I must go down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and the sky’
John Masefield – Sea Fever

Pic 5All of The Reader’s Merseyside-based volunteer projects joined forces for our ‘No Frills Fish and Chips social’ in New Brighton last week. The Big Lottery, Off the Page and Calderstones volunteers came together to round off the summer with the sea, a stroll and some tasty fish and chips. It was our way to thank our volunteers for their relentless care and commitment.

We were welcomed by the endless blue of the wide sea and sky on a beautifully mild, calm evening (phew!). After gathering at The Mediterranean Sea Fish Bar we set about ordering and serving our group of 40 or so volunteers, efficiently and swiftly taken care of by Big Lottery Manager Megg!

Whilst feasting, we had the opportunity to act as socialites; chatting, welcoming and spotting connections between our fellow volunteer colleagues.

After dodging a few gulls and conquering our mountains of chips, we eventually gave in to that elusive pull of the sea as some of the group set off for a full-bellied stroll. We settled to take in the evening sea view and were treated to an improvised reading of John Masefield’s Sea Fever from Emma – a stand-out moment for one of volunteers who kindly reflected her highlights in one of my admin sessions this week:

‘It was good to get together – meeting new people and staff you haven’t seen. I enjoyed when we did the poem on our walk!…Getting out and about. The Fish and Chips were absolutely beautiful!’ – Lesley

Pic 1A satisfying summary that seems to touch upon that need to feel connected; to experience the camaraderie of volunteership, as well as being part of The Reader family.

A special thanks to The Mediterranean Sea Fish Bar who prepared mountains of fish and chips and were very accommodating when our forty strong group descended on their shop. A real team effort from Gillian, Katie, Megg, Celia and Emma who planned the event, communicated throughout and arranged various meeting points to suit the different needs of our volunteers – many thanks everyone!

Find out more about our volunteering projects in Merseyside and across the country on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering

HRH the Duchess of Cornwall enjoys more shared reading

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and Frank Field MP join the Read It Together group at Manor Children's Centre, Birkenhead
HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and Frank Field MP join the Read It Together group at Manor Children’s Centre, Birkenhead

A very special royal guest has returned to share some reading with us…

Last month Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall became patron of the Foundation Years Trust, a trust aimed at providing an early years intervention for children and families most at risk from the effects of poverty. The Reader Organisation works with Foundation Years Trust as part of the Birkenhead Foundation Years Project, supporting families through pregnancy to when children start full-time at school. Alongside other initiatives, we provide Read It Together groups for parents and children to enjoy stories together and develop a love of reading that will contribute towards a child’s learning and increased development.

As part of the recent Royal visit to Merseyside with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the Duchess made a visit to Manor Primary School in Birkenhead where initiatives from the Birkenhead Foundation Years Project are taking place. After a visit to the Bump-Start group, the Duchess spent time at our Read It Together group for parents, carers and children aged 0-5 at Manor Children’s Centre, along with Frank Field MP, Chair of Foundation Years Trust and Zoe Munby, Director of the Birkenhead Foundation Years Project.

Little boy receives flower from The DuchessThe group has been running weekly every Thursday afternoon since September 2014, letting children discover reading with their parents and carers through story and rhyme sessions. As children spend time with play workers, adults get the time to read together for themselves in a relaxed space, encouraging reading to continue amongst the family.

Amanda Boston, our Reader in Residence at Birkenhead Foundation Years Project, led the group in reading Owl Babies by Martin Waddell along with some songs. Following the children’s group, the Duchess joined in the adjoining 10 minute session especially for the adult members to read and discuss One Another’s Light by Brian Patten. As an avid reader and supporter of literacy it was wonderful that the Duchess could take part in the shared reading experience.

It’s not the Duchess’s first time finding out about shared reading – in July last year she dropped into one of our groups for people living with dementia while officially reopening Exeter Library. We feel like a Royal Reading Revolution could be about to take place…

For more information on our work reading with children and young people, see our website and the Foundation Years Trust.


Goodbye and Good Luck to our Apprentice Zoe

Saying goodbye is always bittersweet, but it’s with looking back on some wonderful achievements that we bid a fond farewell to our Reader Apprentice Zoe Jermy.

Zoe joined The Reader Organisation over two years ago with her apprenticeship being funded by money raised by our Apprenticeships: Building Opportunities for Life scheme, a programme designed especially to provide a young person from the local community with a flexible and specially tailored way into the working world. Keeping a focus on practical and creative work experience in a range of different areas, the apprenticeship role aimed to develop competencies and through experience, equip with life skills including social awareness, emotional resilience, enterprise and creativity.

Zoe was the third Apprentice employed by us and has been an incredible asset to the organisation, being a key part of our Wirral team (and helping us out on the other side of the River Mersey in Liverpool too). She’s packed an amazing amount into the last two years; here’s Zoe’s account of the time in her own words:

I am very grateful for my 2 year apprenticeship at The Reader Organisation. I met a lot of friendly people and built up a lovely relationship with Helen who supported me greatly; I’ve had lots of new experiences, and learnt loads of new skills.

I started working in Leasowe Library with Vic, working with the kids there. It was lovely as the kids got on really well with Eamee, Niall and myself. I will always be grateful to Eamee for taking me under her wing, as if it wasn’t for Eamee I don’t think I would have got through some of the things she helped me with. Thank you Eamee, you are a STAR!

I started going to a group in The Lauries Centre on a Thursday morning with Helen. Helen then left that group and I met Selina. Soon I started helping Selina out with teas & coffees and helped set up the room in the morning, I also sometimes picked a poem to go with the book we were reading. I became really confident with the chats and soon learnt a lot from Selina when she did the facilitation. Some days Selina took leave and I was confident enough to run the group on my own.

I then started working at St Ann’s Primary School with Jane, Eamee and Charlotte. This was also a lovely place to work and it was really fun to work with the boys. They loved reading The Pencil.

The next thing that I found very challenging was the two day event in Calderstones. I was really nervous and had a panic attack so I went in the kitchen to take some time out and Jane found me and asked what was wrong. I explained and she spoke to me and gave me some great support, saying ‘you can do it!’ She gave me a hug and I went out and started helping to sell books. I was so proud of myself. The second day that I was there I knew what to expect and did brilliant!

I started going to Highcroft Day Centre and the centre was really nice too. The staff were so helpful and made you feel so welcome. I then started doing Birkenhead Court which was another elderly centre. Sandra the volunteer was great with the residents and I became more confident when we both took it in turns to read a poem each and discuss it.

I went to The SEN Awards and it was lovely. I am so glad I went as I will never get another experience like it. It was a night I will never forget and it made it even better that The Reader Organisation won!

I have passed my Theory driving test and all my English, Maths and customer service with Cathy Chan from Sysco training. I also passed my Level 2 English in college.

I started going to Selina’s group on a Wednesday and loved it ever since I started; it is the one thing I have stuck to most while in my apprenticeship. Wednesdays were when I was my happiest. I have met the most amazing people from the groups to the staff in the Library.

I want to stay a HUGE thank you for everyone who has supported me and given me belief in myself as if it wasn’t for you kind people I wouldn’t be where I am today. I always thought low of myself and never thought I was going to achieve anything but you have all shown me help, support and love though my journey and I am so grateful but also so sad to be leaving. I am not very good at expressing myself even through writing but I will never forget the big and small things that people have done for me. Thank you!

All of us at The Reader Organisation would like to say a huge thanks to Zoe for all her hard work and enthusiasm. We wish her the very best for her bright future and in all that she does.

Read more about one of Zoe’s adventures during her Apprenticeship,  taking a trip to Antwerp to help us run one of our international Read to Lead courses.

Seasons Readings!

Christmas spirit is filling the TRO offices at the moment as we get ready to wrap up for the holiday – not before the Ha’Penny and Penny Readings, of course.

This afternoon sees our staff Christmas party at Head Office in Calderstones Mansion House, but we’ve already been getting into the festive mood by celebrating with our Readers and volunteers in Liverpool, London and Wirral over the last few weeks. We can safely say that a very merry time was had by all at each of the parties, combining two quintessentially Readerly pastimes – reading and food – in copious amounts, and we’d like to say a big thank you to everyone involved in arranging and who came along to our Christmas celebrations around the country.

Below are a few pictures from our Christmas party in Wirral, which took place at Birkenhead Central Library last week.






Of course the festive season is the perfect time for catching up on reading, and our Readers may be interested to know about a special city-wide reading project that is happening over Christmas. City of Readers and BBC Radio Merseyside are reading Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, and on Friday 16th January at 1pm the book will be discussed on a live phone-in segment on BBC Radio Merseyside. If you’ve ever wanted to appear on the radio and share your views about a great piece of literature to a regional audience, now’s your chance! All you need to do is read the book over the Christmas period – copies are available in libraries across Liverpool – and tune in on 16th January to enjoy a great read together with the rest of the city.

To find out more about the City of Readers aim to get Liverpool reading for pleasure, visit their website: http://cityofreaders.org/