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.

The Reader 58 has arrived

Issue 58 of The Reader features Bill Bailey, Anna Woodford, Sarah Helm, Matthew Hollis, Salley Vickers and many more
Issue 58 of The Reader features Bill Bailey, Anna Woodford, Sarah Helm, Matthew Hollis, Salley Vickers and many more

If the heat is making you yearn to sit in the shade with some new reading material, then you’re in luck as Issue 58 of The Reader has arrived and it’s packed full of literary goodness to help you while away the long hot hours.

The contemporary very firmly combines with the classic this issue – new poetry comes from Matthew Hollis, Robert Etty, Claire Allen and Julian Flanagan with new fiction – the thought-provoking One, Two, Three, Four – from Greg Forshaw. To accompany the ever-popular Old Poem feature by Brian Nellist, we’re now introducing The Old Story to bring back a forgotten gem from the past, the first coming from Katherine Mansfield.

Bill Bailey talks to Fiona Magee about his own unique brand of comedy and why he’s not a fan of jokes, his relationship with language, ambitions to write a book and his belief in the importance of reading out loud.

“That’s the great power of literature: not all the information is there – you have to bring something as well to it to make it” – Bill Bailey

A trio of formidable female writers share their work: in this issue’s The Poet on Her Work, Anna Woodford discusses her poem ‘The Gender and Law at Durham Research Group’, looking at how two specialised languages – that of poetry and of law – respond to personal loss and the threatened loss of self. Salley Vickers‘ essay on The Winter’s Tale also examines loss – in particular the slow story of possible restoration after it – and extracts feature from Sarah Helm‘s If This Is A Woman, a scholarly and at the same time unswerving history of Ravensbruck, Hitler’s concentration camp for women.

All this, as well as a preview of the Storybarn, Liverpool’s new interactive story centre for children and families, by Jane Davis; tales from the Versewagon by Ian McMillan; five featured books about sisters from Angela MacMillan, and much more.

“Literature still serves all the purposes that oral storytelling once achieved, and remains essential to our wellbeing” – Joseph Gold, The Story Species

Make sure you order your copy now in time for your summer getaway – Issue 58 is available to order online now, via single copy or annual subscription, saving you 15% on the cover price over the year.

Visit our website for full details on purchasing:


“What light through yonder window breaks?”: Romeo and Juliet arrives soon!

Lovers everywhere pay heed – The Globe on Tour’s production of Romeo and Juliet is around the corner, with just over a month to go until Shakespeare’s most famous and most tragic lovers arrive to take the stage in Liverpool at Calderstones Mansion House.

So far the cast have brought the show far and wide since they opened at Theatre Clywd in Wales, from Austria to Norway to the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. They find themselves back on home soil in Stoke-on-Trent this week, and we’re hoping the sun will keep shining to recreate the beautiful scenes seen from their performances at the Brighton Festival in May.

R&J 2
The cast of Romeo and Juliet take the stage at Brighton Open Air Theatre (credit: Vic Frankowski)
R&J 3
Cassie Layton as Juliet with The Globe on Tour at Brighton Open Air Theatre (credit: Vic Frankowski)

If you’re yearning to know more, The Globe on Tour has lots of goodies on their website, including video trailers and interviews with Sam Valentine (Romeo) and Cassie Layton (Juliet). Sam was also quizzed on Twitter in a special #AskRomeo Q&A recently – no need to fear about missing out, as all of the questions and answers, featuring exclusive pictures of the cast on their travels, have been compiled in this handy Storify:

Romeo and Juliet will be at the Garden Theatre at Calderstones Mansion House on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th July (matinee and evening performances on Saturday 25th). Tickets cost £20 and can be booked from The Globe’s website or by calling The Globe Box Office on 020 7401 9919.

To keep up to date with Romeo and Juliet on their travels, follow @GlobeOnTour


Featured Poem: Sonnet 43 by William Shakespeare

It’s Shakespeare Week this week, encouraging younger generations to be inspired through encountering Shakespeare’s stories, language and heritage. Therefore, there could be no other choice than to feature the bard himself as our Monday offering for the week ahead.

Most of us are likely to start off our experiences of Shakespeare by reading the plays while in school or university, but to know the true scope of his work it’s well worth looking at his sonnets too – of which there are a staggering 154. Perhaps if you’re feeling particularly adventurous you could dedicate this week to reading them all?

We’ll give you just one in the meantime, which shows how Shakespeare was the master of inventiveness in his writing. Consider all of the oppositions within…

Sonnet 44

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

William Shakespeare


You can experience the wonder of one of the Bard’s most classic tales as Romeo and Juliet comes to Calderstones Mansion House this July with Shakespeare’s Globe. See this post for all the details on how you can book your tickets for what promises to be a spectacular version of the enduring love story.

The Globe on Tour presents Romeo and Juliet at Calderstones Mansion House

“Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs;
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes;
Being vexed, a sea nourished with loving tears.
What is it else? A madness most discreet,
A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.”

Valentine’s Day might have passed for another year but we’ve got one of literature’s greatest love stories very much on our minds with some exciting news…

After two previous spellbinding visits, we’re delighted to announce that Shakespeare’s Globe is returning to Calderstones Mansion House this summer with the Bard’s classic and arguably most popular tale of two star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet.

r&j print

Following the versions of King Lear and Much Ado About Nothing that proved to be surefire crowd-pleasers with audiences in Liverpool, The Globe on Tour will visit the Garden Theatre again in July to present the tragic but compelling story. Following performances on the Globe’s stage, a small troupe of travelling players are taking to the road to perform a stripped-down version unlike anything seen before, breathing new life into one of the greatest of all love stories.

We’re sure you’re aware of how the tale goes, but in case you need a reminder…

An ongoing feud between two noble families, the Montagues and the Capulets, sets the scene for
Shakespeare’s first great tragedy on the streets of Verona. A violent street brawl between their rival families is the prelude to Romeo’s first encounter with Juliet. Despite this, and the fact Juliet has been promised to another, they fall in love. But any plans for their future happiness are cruelly destroyed by renewed violence between their families and tragedy begins to unfold.
The honour of playing the famous lovers falls to the appropriately named Samuel Valentine as Romeo and Cassie Layton as Juliet, joining a list including Adetomiwa Edun (Merlin, The Hour) and Ellie Kendrick (Game of Thrones, Being Human, The Diary of Anne Frank) who starred in The Globe’s previous production and of course star names including Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in what is considered to be the most-filmed play of all time.
If last year’s reviews are anything to go by, the Garden Theatre at Calderstones will provide the perfect romantic backdrop to set the scene:
Had a brilliant night watching ‘s ‘s beautiful outdoor theatre at . Magical!
Tickets for Romeo and Juliet at Calderstones Mansion House are now on sale, here’s the information on how you can get yours:
Ticket price: £20
(£15 concessions)
To purchase tickets online, please visit the Shakespeare Globe’s website. Note: there is a £2.50 transaction fee for online bookings.

Please contact The Globe’s Box Office on 020 7401 9919 if you want to book for a Group; if you require access bookings; if you have children U18 or would like to use Theatre Tokens.
N.B. Concessions do not apply to Senior citizens for theatre performances. Discounts cannot be applied retrospectively.


Shared reading group members and volunteers

The Reader Organisation has a limited number of £15 discounted tickets for shared reading group members and volunteers which can be obtained through your group leaders. Please note: these tickets are not available through The Globe’s website, only physically through group leaders.

The performances will take place outdoors so please bring a picnic rug or low-backed seat and suitable clothing for all weather conditions. The plays will go ahead in all but the most extreme weather conditions.

Tickets are likely to go fast, so make sure you snap yours up quickly!

We’ll keep you posted with all the news in the months to come, but in the meantime you can join in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #RomeoandJuliet and #GlobeOnTour

The Reader Organisation’s Review of 2014: Part 1

2014 is fast drawing to a close, and what a year it’s been for us here at The Reader Organisation. Looking back it’s almost hard to believe how much we’ve crammed into the space of twelve months. It’s been a time defined by growth and development, with new shared reading and volunteering projects around the UK, events for all ages and interests with a packed programme at Calderstones Mansion House all year around, a new anthology to add to our bookshelf and our number of staff has surpassed 100.

Before the bells of the New Year ring, we’ve got time to look back on the year that has been…and there’s been so much happening that we’ve had to split it into two parts.


TR100_410x273At the start of 2014 we announced Better with a Book, our fifth annual National Conference, which explored the connections between reading great literature, improved mental health and the reduction of social isolation. The British Library Conference Centre was vibrant with interested delegates, all of whom came together for a day focused on the impacts of shared reading. Guest speakers included Lord Melvyn Bragg, who spoke about the effects of reading on his own life and that of his mother, who was diagnosed with dementia; Baroness Estelle Morris, and Dr Alice Sullivan of the Instiute of Education. Most memorable were the personal stories of our Readers, who shared their experiences of how reading has changed their life.

_MG_9867Calderstones Mansion House – the future International Centre for Reading – came to life with a series of special events throughout the year. From Half-Term Hijinks and an Easter Extravaganza for children and the family to historical tours of the Mansion and an authentic 1940s-style Tea Dance, there has been tons for the community to enjoy. We were delighted to welcome back Shakespeare’s Globe for highly praised performances of Much Ado About Nothing, and the Secret Garden opened up to amazed audiences as we held our first Children’s Literature Festival, complete with storytelling, competitions and giant games of Quidditch.

The London Penny Readings returned to the Southbank Centre as part of London Literature Festival, and back in Liverpool the ever popular festive reading and entertainment extravaganza the Penny Readings sold out in record time.


On Active Service cover2014 has brought four new issues of The Reader, with contributions from names including Erwin James, Alan Howarth, Margaret Drabble, David Constantine, Maxine Peake, Miriam Gamble and Michael Schmidt.

To mark the centenary of the start of the First World War, co-editor of The Reader and Godfather of The Reader Organisation Brian Nellist compiled a new poetry anthology, On Active Service: 1914-1918, remembering the extraordinary experiences of ordinary people commemorated in their own words.

Media and special appearances

Shared reading has been making headlines again, with the positive effects of reading aloud and the pioneering research of Centre of Research for Reading, Society and Literature (CRILS) being mentioned in The Telegraph and The Independent.

The happenings at Calderstones and the City of Readers project received lots of local press, and reading aloud came to the airwaves as our groups were featured in two programmes on BBC Radio 4. In his series exploring the English language, Stephen Fry looked at the art of reading aloud – “a life-changing business” – featuring input from our some of our group members, who attested to this statement. Calderstones Mansion House also featured in Open Book, being showcased as a ‘reading oasis’ for the community.

Dutchess of wales joins shared reading Group
Credit: Jenny Steer

Our social media channels are continuing to get people talking about great literature – we have over 8,400 followers on Twitter – with our regional Twitter accounts sparking lots of interest too – and more than 1,700 likes on Facebook.

And over the summer, The Reader South West got a visit from a very special guest at one of our regular groups. Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall enjoyed some shared reading with our group members at Exeter Library while on tour in the area, as well as finding out about our work across the region.

Part 2 of TRO’s Review of 2014 is coming tomorrow.


PurpleCoat Productions present Twelfth Night on Tour at Calderstones Mansion

Purple CoatWe simply can’t get enough of Shakespeare here at The Reader Organisation, and after the marvellous Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare’s Globe a couple of months ago we’re thrilled to have another fabulous company join us at Calderstones Mansion House Garden to give us their version of one of the Bard’s other classic comedies.

PurpleCoat Productions is a film and theatre group based in the North West of England, creating innovative, exciting and exhilarating work to local and national audiences. With support coming from Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen and working alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company, PurpleCoat are definitely certified to tackle the Bard’s plays, with previous performances including Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet, and we’re very pleased that they’ll be bringing Twelfth Night (or What You Will) in their first touring production to Calderstones on Friday 5th September. If you weren’t lucky enough to get tickets to the recent Everyman version then it’s the perfect opportunity to see the play performed by a talented local cast in beautfiul surrounding perfect for Shakespeare.

Twelfth Night on Tour will be whistle-stop, performing in 6 different cities over 6 nights, so it’s bound to be an energetic and thrilling ride. The show is already underway as casting decisions have been made and rehearsals are going ahead. You can stay up to date with all of the behind-the-scenes action as it happens from PurpleCoat on the Twelfth Night on Tour blog, with lots of fascinating insights already up…:

And to whet your appetite even more, check out the fabulous trailer below:

Twelfth Night on Tour plays at Calderstones Mansion House Garden on Friday 5th September. Tickets cost £10 (£8 concessions) and are available to buy at Calderstones Mansion House or via The Reader Organisation website:

Please note: there is a £1.20 booking fee for online bookings.

The performance will be held outdoors, so please bring along suitable waterproof clothing and a chair or blanket to enjoy the performance to its full potential.

For more information about PurpleCoat Productions, see their website or follow them on Twitter:

“There was a star danced…” – Much Ado wows the Garden Theatre at Calderstones

The stage for Much Ado at the Garden Theatre (credit: @willowsh on Twitter)
The stage for Much Ado at the Garden Theatre (credit: @willowsh on Twitter)

“For man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.”

We certainly had a most giddy time at the end of last week as we welcomed The Globe on Tour back to Calderstones Mansion House for their touring production of Much Ado About Nothing. Bard buffs, literary lovers and those who fancied a detour from football fever entered the Garden Theatre to enjoy one of Shakespeare’s liveliest and most well-loved comedies.

It was lucky enough that the sun shone down – with just a few showers here and there – providing us with the perfect backdrop to proceedings out of doors on a wonderfully authentic Shakespearean stage, and the glorious sounds of many a musical instrument rang out around the Garden Theatre as the merry band of players brought us the story of Much Ado over five performances on three days.

The eight strong cast entertained the crowds with aplomb, with Simon Bubb and Emma Pallant putting in stellar performances as the warring would-be lovers Benedick and Beatrice, and local connections coming from Sam Phillips, who played Claudio. Fittingly for a play that is full of fooling and people taking the place of others, the cast switched between characters throughout – perhaps the most inspired change of roles came from Chris Starkie, who played both the dastardly villain Don John and the perennially confused Dogberry.

Enjoying the show and a fair few ice-creams in the sunshine, our audience were keen enough to let us know what they thought on Twitter:

Had a brilliant night watching ‘s ‘s beautiful outdoor theatre at . Magical!

Fab afternoon watching Much Ado!!! 🙂 what an amazingly talented cast!!! 🙂 Bravo!!! 🙂

Basking in the afterglow of a tremendous Much Ado from and (s)

Much Ado in full swing at the Garden Theatre at Calderstones (credit: @shell_here on Twitter)
Much Ado in full swing at the Garden Theatre at Calderstones (credit: @shell_here on Twitter)

There were also fabulous 4* reviews from Catherine Jones of the Liverpool Echo, who called the production ‘quirky and charming’, as well as David Sedgwick from The Public Reviews:

“It’s certainly no mean feat to have the audience in stitches after a mere four centuries have passed. Having said that to extract that comedy requires a level of performance and direction of the utmost deftness. The laughs are all hard-earned. […] This Much Ado then is nothing if not accessible. Yet the play still ripples with profundity, still revels in linguistic musicality and still dazzles with intellectual dexterity.”

It’s been another amazing Shakespearean experience in the Garden Theatre, and we hope that everyone at Osbourne House in the Isle of Wight will have as much fun when the show rolls up there later this week as we did at Calderstones.

There’s no stopping at the Mansion House as our summer programme of events is now online for you to take a look at. From concerts to heritage walks around Calderstones Park, a host of Summer School Sizzlers and our very first Children’s Literature Festival in The Secret Garden of Stories this August, there’s something for everyone to enjoy – and we hope that the weather holds up, but regardless there’s lots of fun in store.

For more information of all of our events at Calderstones this summer, head to our Events calendar: