‘A ripple of triumph’: feeling Better with a Book in secure settings

Lord Howarth
Lord Alan Howarth will be speaking at Better with a Book, TRO’s fifth National Conference

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 abigailleader@thereader.org.uk or call 0151 207 7221.

For all the latest news on the Conference, follow the #betterwithabook hashtag on Twitter

Reading for Pleasure with The Reader Organisation

There’s been quite some focus in the042 news recently about the wonderful activity of reading for pleasure, and worries about whether our children are doing enough of it.

A  research study funded by publishing group Egmont was reported by The Guardian to suggest that today’s parents’  increasingly busy lifestyles are preventing them from having the time to actually sit down and read to their children usually after the age of five. Meanwhile, teachers argue that due to the target-driven policies of education today, they do not get time to instil a genuine love of reading in the children they teach, and introduce them to a variety of books. This means that our younger generations are missing out on one of our greatest human pleasures, and no doubt growing up with an inhibited appreciation for language and its creative power.

In December 2012, The Reader Organisation held a Reading For Pleasure In Schools Day Conference, a successful event that focused on strategies to engage primary and infant school children in reading for pleasure. That means no testing, no grades, no pressure for the child…just pure, plain, enjoyment. Over 50 teachers and teaching assistants from across Merseyside were in attendance, along with special guest speakers Frank Cottrell Boyce and two representatives from Walker Books UK. It ended with a consultation session where teachers gave their opinions on what would enable them to turn their school into a ‘Reading Revolutionary School’.

Now, we’re focusing on secondary school pupils.  Our upcoming Reading For Pleasure in Secondary Schools Day Conference will be taking place next Monday 15th July at Liverpool Hope University, and we hope that you will join us. It is one thing to get068 primary school children to read, an age group whose imaginations are still fluid, excitable, and naturally curious. It is quite another to engage secondary school pupils, who are at a greater risk of losing connection with literature because of the mental space it demands, the time within their schedule it may require, and even perhaps a slight insecurity about whether reading is indeed a ‘cool’ thing to do. During this conference, The Reader Organisation will be exploring how exactly we can encourage adolescents to read more.

On the day you can expect a range of interactive and focused sessions, including participating in shared reading sessions based on TRO’s award-winning Get Into Reading programme, and learn more about how to encourage children to read for pleasure within and beyond the classroom.

Guest speaker Frank Cottrell Boyce, best-selling author, screenwriter and patron of TRO,  will be returning and answering your questions. Founding Director Jane Davis and Liverpool Hope University Reader In Residence Charlotte Weber will also be talking about The Reader Organisation’s work, and our partnership with the university.

This event is FREE of charge, and refreshments and lunch will be provided on the day.

To book your place, please contact the Liverpool Hope Partnership Team on partnershipoffice@hope.ac.uk or call 0151 291 3062