Prison book ban overturned

Wonderful news was announced at the end of last week as the ban on sending books to prisoners in England and Wales has been declared unlawful by the High Court.

Mr Justice Collins has removed the ban previously imposed earlier this year by the justice secretary Chris Grayling and has ordered the policy on what can be sent to prisoners to be amended, commenting that it was strange to treat books as a privilege when they may be essential to a prisoner’s self-development and rehabilitation.

The ban provoked an incredible reaction in opposition, leading to a petition and high-profile campaign garnering support from authors including Carol Ann Duffy, Salman Rushdie and Philip Pullman, who commented after the reversal of the decision that he was glad that reading has been seen as “a right and not a privilege”.

The Reader Organisation is delighted to hear the news, given our work sharing reading in prisons and criminal justice settings across the UK. For hundreds of prisoners each week, shared reading offers the chance to reflect, engaging with literature and connecting deeper to their own experiences.

“The connections and insights of a shared reading group are endless and some of those most in need of new connections and insights are prisoners. I myself have actually become more tolerant of people and value their opinions far more than I used to as I am constantly amazed by the depth of those insights which frequently resonate with me deeply.

I have benefited greatly from the emphasis upon great literature and 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 in these finely crafted works than I have in half a dozen psychological ‘treatments’.” – A, a prisoner taking part in one of our regular shared reading group

Read more of A’s story in our Annual Report 2013/14

Writer and patron of The Reader Organisation Erwin James spoke on BBC Radio 4 following the overturning of the ban discussing the importance of reading in prison and in particular talking about the difference books have made to his life: you can hear the clip here. In Issue 54 of The Reader, he wrote an essay about how he became a reader whilst in prison and how one book in particular gave him hope for the future. In the light of the news, it makes for an even more powerful read.

Recently Lord Faulks QC, Minister of State for Civil Justice & Legal Policy, visited one of our shared reading groups at the Psychologically Informed Planned Environment (PIPEs) in HMP Send. Shared reading has been integrated as part of daily life in seven PIPEs around the country. After his visit, Lord Faulks lent his support to shared reading within criminal justice settings:

“The Reader Organisation performs a vital function in the delivery of the PIPE objectives by engaging prisoners with literature and poetry which is both enjoyable and beneficial for them. I was very impressed with the library facilities at HMP Send particularly with the accessibility to books in all genres.”

Great news just in time for Christmas for prisoners across the country to receive the gift of reading and we continue to look forward to delivering more shared reading sessions in criminal justice settings in 2015.

Open Book with Marilynne Robinson – and The Reader Organisation

Marilynne Robinson speaking at our 'Reading for Wellbeing' conference in 2011
Marilynne Robinson speaking at our ‘Reading for Wellbeing’ conference in 2011

This week’s edition of Open Book on BBC Radio 4 was a treat for literature lovers, featuring an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson about her new novel Lila, the long anticipated third book in her bestselling series set in the fictional town of Gilead (following on from Gilead and Home). Certainly many of us at The Reader Organisation are big fans of Marilynne Robinson and her work, and became even more so when she joined us as a guest speaker at our second ever Conference in New Brighton in 2011, with some lucky enough to spend an evening in the company of the author at Blackburne House beforehand.

We were proud to stand alongside Marilynne again as the programme also included a special feature on the ‘reading oasis’ that can be found at Calderstones Mansion House. Earlier in the year Open Book visited Calderstones, guided by our Founder and Director Jane Davis, to witness some shared reading in action and see just how we are already starting to build an International Centre for Reading with our group members from the local community and beyond. You can listen to Calderstones on Open Book here (approx 11 minutes 52 seconds in): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04p5m1y

The feature included input from Professor Rhiannon Corcoran from University of Liverpool who talks about her special interest in the practice of shared reading and one of our trustees Dr Shyamal Mukherjee, Medical Director of NHS Wirral, identifying the benefits shared reading can provide to people’s health and wellbeing, as well as contributing to increased social interaction on a unique and deeply emotional scale.

Some of our reading group members could also be heard on the programme, discussing the in and outs of Dombey and Son as well as enjoying our very popular babies, toddlers and parents/carers reading group Tiny Reads. There can’t be too many other Grade II listed buildings in the country where you would find Dickens being read doors along from The Gruffalo on a Friday morning!

Reading with tots right up to the young at heart is exactly what we want to do at Calderstones – encouraging everyone to come through the doors to enjoy the pure pleasure of reading, as well as to connect with those around them in what will be a true community hub with great literature at its heart. Including gallery and events spaces, a crammed calendar for the whole family to enjoy and a cafe full of tasty treats, we’re always developing at Calderstones: http://www.thereader.org.uk/calderstones

Catch up with Open Book on the BBC Radio 4 website, or you can listen again by tuning into BBC Radio 4 this Thursday 20th November at 3.30pm. Listen to the Calderstones feature on its own by heading here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02c7r89

‘A life changing business’: Stephen Fry on reading aloud

dementia 2The art of reading aloud was explored by Stephen Fry in a fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4 yesterday – and Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation Jane Davis along with some of our Readers in Liverpool were featured speaking about the power and special quality of reading aloud.

In Greek and Roman times, reading silently was frowned upon – the skill of reading aloud was much prized amongst the finest in society and the Romans could even be described as the predecessors of shared reading, gathering to read aloud in groups. Fry’s English Delight took listeners on a journey through the history of reading aloud, which amongst other gems told us that for over a third of the 21 centuries that have passed reading aloud was the most common form of reading and that authors such as Tennyson, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen were particular fans of reading aloud: Austen would ‘road test’ the drafts of her novels, including Pride and Prejudice, by reading and having her family reading them aloud.

The Reader Organisation connects people with great literature and through reading aloud in our regular shared reading groups in the UK, and the programme visited us at one of our groups in Liverpool while they read Silas Marner by George Eliot. Readers including Damian, who went for years with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and Louise, who has Asperger’s syndrome, spoke about how reading aloud has affected them, using terms such as ‘addictive’ and referring to the stories and poems that are read as ‘a bright light shining in the darkness’. When the words of great writers are read aloud we are not only attuned to their beauty but are exposed to the value of great minds and thinking, which can act to make us emotionally stronger.

Woman laughing hystericallyThe question of whether people might be put off by the apparent performative nature of reading aloud is something dismissed in our shared reading groups, as the informal and relaxed atmosphere allows people to choose to read only if they want to, letting people be themselves. As Jane says, reading aloud is one of the most democratic forms of communication, with everybody able to get something out of it.

The programme also featured speakers including Professor John Mullan of University College, London, who provided insights into the greats of literature and their skills of reading aloud – giving even experts in the field something to learn. 10 year old Ben, who started and rounded off the programme, spoke about how he thinks it’s every parent’s duty to read aloud to their children – a reader to watch for the future! Stephen Fry himself was in praise of the art, saying:

“Reading aloud and being read to can be a deeply affecting, life changing business.”

With readers like Damian and Louise as well as many more benefitting from the power of reading aloud, we can attest to this.

If you missed the broadcast of Fry’s English Delight you can listen again on the website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04dk84m

Fry’s English Delight

stephen fry“I’ve always known that reading aloud is one of the paths to greater happiness in life…reading aloud isn’t medicine to be swallowed to make one feel better. It’s pleasure. Pure pleasure.”

Actor, broadcaster and beloved figure of British culture Stephen Fry is a keen supporter of the art of reading aloud (given the quote above straight from the man himself) and you’ll hear him take a closer insight at the practice on his latest radio programme – featuring input from some of our Readers.

Fry’s English Delight is currently in its seventh series on BBC Radio 4 (Mondays), exploring the ‘highways and byways’ of the English language. In the next episode, Reading Aloud comes under the spotlight as Stephen investigates the art from Roman times right up to the present day.

We’re delighted to be featured in the episode, to be broadcast on Monday 18th August at 9am (repeated at 9.30pm the same day), with some of our reading group members who were recorded as part of one of our groups at Calderstones Mansion House talking about the importance of reading aloud and what it means to them.

If you’re a lover of the English language as well as literature, it’s an unmissable series – previous episodes have already covered the mysterious language of magic and the punishing business of proper nouns and capital letters.

You can listen in and find out more about Fry’s English Delight on the Radio 4 website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lv1k1

And don’t forget to make a date in your diary for Monday 18th August!

Head to the ‘Reading With Us’ page of our website for a full list of all of our current open shared reading groups running around the country: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reading-with-us