Reading with Looked After Children in Wirral: Pudsey approved!

Say hello to a certain someone our Wirral team discovered on their travels...
Say hello to a certain someone our Wirral team discovered on their travels…

BBC’s annual Children in Need appeal takes place this Friday, so there’s no need to be alarmed if you spot a sudden surge of fluffy yellow bear ear-wearing individuals. Just last week, we happened to come across a VIB (very special Bear) at MediaCityUK…

Earlier this year, we were awarded a grant from Children in Need to fund our project reading with Looked After Children in Wirral. Our previous work with Looked After Children across Merseyside has shown how reading for pleasure can bring a variety of benefits, not least in creating a safe environment in which young people can engage with literature that relates to them.

“I love this, I want it to go on forever” – a Looked After Child reading with us as part of our pilot project

By reading one-on-one with a project worker or volunteer in a familiar setting, children are able to expand their imaginations and discover new possibilities. Not only does our shared reading approach encourage a love for reading for the sheer fun of doing so, but also allows young people to reflect on the experiences of the characters they encounter, stimulating a greater sense of empathy and understanding.  Making children excited about books in their own space often gives the incentive of wanting to read more, and so we’ve found that confidence with literacy increases, as does general self-esteem.

For some children, reading can offer a support unavailable elsewhere – a way of getting to grips with their emotions and providing a safe domain through which their voice can be heard, and in some cases found. The connection between reading and wellbeing allows for a retreat from the stresses of everyday life and an escape into another world. This was true for Liam, who took part in one of our previous projects:

“The support of reading together was apparent another week, when Liam looked like he’d been crying and his carer said he had not had a good day in school. He did not want to talk to me about it, but he did feel like reading. We got absorbed in the story together, and by the end he looked much happier. I asked him if he felt better than before the session and he said he did, which was very rewarding.”

Over the next three years, we’ll be able to create more of these reading experiences for over 100 young people aged between 5-15 on the Wirral thanks to the funding received by Children in Need. We’ve already started to recruit volunteers who will be matched with a child for one-to-one reading sessions in foster and care homes. After six months, young people will be able to continue by taking part in group sessions with their peers, encouraging friendships to be formed as well as their love of reading to grow.

For more information about our Wirral Looked After Children project, see our website or contact Charlie Kelly, Looked After Children Volunteer Coordinator: charliekelly@thereader.org.uk

Read more of our Reader Stories from Looked After Children in some of our previous projects:

W’s Reader Story
P’s Reader Story

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.