“Amazing things happen”: The Reader’s AGM 2015

Annual Report frontWhere would you find over 100 guests eating warming bowls of stew followed by scoops of ice cream, taking an exclusive tour of the North West’s forthcoming interactive children’s story centre and sharing poetry, laughs, bursts of emotion and gasps of recognition?

At the beginning of this week, we were delighted to welcome volunteers, commissioners, trustees, staff and many of our shared reading group members from around the country to our base at Calderstones Mansion for our 2015 AGM. Our third AGM to date at Calderstones, we gathered to celebrate a year of many highlights of shared reading activity – the written details of which can be found in our 2014-15 Annual Report. With the appearance of our special guests, we were able to tell some of those wonderful stories aloud.

Acting Chair of The Reader’s Board of Trustees Kathy Doran started proceedings by arranging the board together, before the celebrations of another successful year of shared reading could begin. Once more, the breadth of our activity has grown in the past year but Jane brought us back to the heart of what we do by reading a poem that sums up the fundamentals of what happens in each and every one of our groups. It is our aim, Jane so aptly summarised with help from John Keats, for everyone within a group to find there their own space ‘silent, upon a peak in Darien’.

Keats AGM poem
On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer – Jane’s choice of shared reading at the 2015 AGM

Our volunteers from across the UK shared their own stories about the projects they have been involved in – some for years, others for months, but all with real impacts to the communities they read with. From Liverpool to London, Somerset to North Wales, and reading with a wide range of people, including older people with dementia, library-goers and young people outside of an educational environment in their own homes, all of our volunteer representatives spoke movingly about the difference shared reading is making – in some cases, being nothing short of life-changing. This year’s AGM marks our signing of the 125-year lease at Calderstones Mansion and we celebrated all that has happened at the Mansion so far, including the efforts of our Calderstones volunteers, who still get the chance to read in all of their various roles.

We were also joined by Vicci Tatton of Prinovis, our corporate social responsibility supporter, who told us more about how their staff are getting involved in bringing reading into the workplace, and one of our commissioners Richard Rodgers, Lead for Substance Misuse Services at Greater Manchester West Mental Health Trust who explained how shared reading helps to “bring the pace of busy life down” for service users across the trust.

All in all, it was an evening full of inspiration – from the words of classic literature to the numbers of people we’re reaching throughout the country, and most significantly, the stories of our group members. To quote Kathy Doran in her closing speech, “amazing things happen” when people come together to read – and we’re looking forward to even more amazing things in the year ahead.

The Reader’s Annual Report 2014-15 is now available to download from our website – discover more about our work in health, with young people and criminal justice settings, as well as many more highlights from ‘a vintage year’.

A ‘reawakening’ through reading: Jack’s Story

Our annual AGM is coming up next week, and we’re looking forward to celebrating a year of achievements with some of our group members from across the country. Many of our group members have gone on to extend their experiences with us past going to a shared reading group regularly, including taking up volunteering opportunities, and it is these often life-changing stories that we celebrate all year through.

Jack came to one of our shared reading groups in a rehabiliation facility on Merseyside, and has since gone on to become a volunteer on our Merseyside Big Lottery Reader Scheme and as part of our Connect at Calderstones programme.

When meeting with us, Jack revealed a life of turmoil prior to joining the shared reading group.

“Before I came to the house I was an amphetamine addict for 20 years and an alcoholic on top…so before the group my life was a mess – a total mess. I lost access to my kids, and I had an active social life but it was all centered around drugs.”

Jack was always an engaged and insightful member of the group, but found it hard at times to accept and listen to other people’s points of view, often becoming defensive or slightly confrontational when there was a difference in perspective. During review, Jack reflected on positive changes he had noted in himself:

“Going to one of these reading groups can only be a benefit, even if you come away with it raging about someone else’s opinion or disagreeing with them, at least you’ve engaged with someone else – you have heard someone else’s opinion. But I’ve found that 99% of the time those opinions are usually worth listening to. I have got better at taking things on board and empathising with people rather than rubbishing their opinion. To see both sides of an argument a bit better, to consider other people’s feelings bit more.”

Jack went on to describe his experience at The Reader as ‘reawakening’ something inside of him:

“It’s more re-awoken things that have been dormant, because you get so used to shutting off the intellectual side of your brain down when you’re in addiction…It’s re-awoken the fact that nowadays nice people might want to know me, whereas 6 months ago, they would’ve taken one look at me and jogged on. It’s re-awoken a sense of self confidence, self-esteem, that I don’t know of many things that would’ve done the same to be honest…

I don’t know about any actual changes in me, rather, reawakening things in me that were there in the first place that had just been suppressed, and now, I’ve been able to exercise and reawaken things inside me, that I suppose I thought were lost, because you do just lose faith in your own abilities, and hope that anything will ever get better. It made me realize that I can connect with other people through something as simple as a book, a story. There’s that real human contact element of it.”

Since successfully completing his rehabilitation programme, Jack has moved back to Sheffield. We have since put Jack in touch with our Sheffield Reader-in-Residence so he can continue his journey with us.

The Reader’s Annual Report 2014/15 will be published next week to coincide with our AGM, featuring more of our group members’ stories.

Finding a way into reading: Alan’s Story

In the run-up to the publication of The Reader’s Annual Report 2014/15, here’s another highlight from our shared reading activity in the past year. 

Our shared reading projects with children and young people focus entirely on reading for pleasure. Even in school settings, stories are shared in an informal, interactive and engaging way to encourage an enthusiasm for reading. Alan is one of our young readers at a primary school in Liverpool, where we have been working in partnership with City of Readers.

Alan, along with twenty other year 3 and 4 pupils, attended the first shared reading session which we ran at a local primary school as part of the Reading Revolutionaries Roadshow. As the group were new to the training course and shared reading model we explained that if students felt too shy or anxious to ask any questions out loud, they could write their questions on a post it note, in which we would address and respond to after the morning break.

We read Oh No George! by Chris Haughton and a lively discussion ensued with lots of the pupils relaying stories about their naughty pets. The group were totally engrossed and all participated in shouting out ‘OH NO GEORGE!’

One group member stated:

“It’s hard when you’re told not to do something though, because it makes you want to do it even more. Like George…I bet he wasn’t even thinking about eating the cake or the playing in the mud, but as soon as he’s told to ‘be good!’ they’re his first thoughts. I’m like that too…like George…as soon as I’m told I ‘can’t’ that’s when I ‘want’.”

After we finished reading, Alan, who had been mostly quiet for the duration, approached me and stated that he had made a mistake with his question on his Post It note and needed to ‘fix it’. We went through the notes until we found his Post It which read ‘I don’t read anything’. He took his note and came up to me around ten minutes later with a new submission which read ‘Did George go in the bin or not? Would George be good next time or not?’

In one twenty minute shared reading session Alan had transformed from a self defined ‘non reader’ to an inquisitive and interested literary thinker.

A's story City of Readers
Alan’s amended Post It note after reading Oh No George!

“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.

The Reader Organisation’s Annual Report 2013/14

peckhamFollowing a successful 2014 AGM last week – our second held at our new HQ, Calderstones Mansion HouseThe Reader Organisation’s Annual Report for 2013/14 is now available on our website to read and download.

Our latest Annual Report charts what has been the biggest period of growth and development for TRO, with more shared reading projects expanding across the UK. Highlights of the year include a significant boost to our community projects in South London thanks to the development of a 3 year project to establish more than 100 shared reading groups across the area which meet the needs of the ‘whole person’ – a health priority flagged up at our National Conference 2013 by Andy Burnham MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health; an expansion of our North Wales project, which is crucially volunteer-led to help us reach some of the most remote parts of the UK; a Reader-in-Residence project which saw shared reading brought to the heart of a workplace across Merseyside, and ongoing work with our partners including Mersey Care, Liverpool Hope University and CRILS (Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society).

The report charts our work across a number of areas, including Health and Wellbeing, Dementia, Criminal Justice and Children and Young People, and also showcases the impact of shared reading in its most vital and human sense, as told through the words of some of our Readers from a variety of settings and places:

“I’ve experienced so many emotions; failure, success, fear, laughter, tension and escapism. Most of all, how enjoyable and magical reading can be.” – D, a shared Reader

“I… have learnt more of what it is to be a human being, the role of emotions in myself and others, in fact
the whole range of human experience… than I have in half a dozen psychological “treatments” ” – group member in Criminal Justice setting

“New friendships have been formed, new horizons opened up and confidence has been boosted. The reading
revolution has started in Buckley Library!” – North Wales Project volunteer

In a year which has also seen us consolidate our work in a practical sense with support from Big Venture Challenge and Social Business Trust, it is a heartening achievement that the serious pleasure of serious reading is continuing to spread further from its strengthened roots.

The Reader Organisation’s Annual report 2013/14 can be downloaded or read on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/who-we-are/annual-report