2013 at The Reader Organisation: A Year in Review Part 1

Calderstones Mansion House c Dave JonesIt’s been another remarkable year for the reading revolution and certainly one to remember as we began to set up home in our latest base, Calderstones Mansion House. So much has happened in the space of 12 months it’s almost hard to believe there has been time to fit everything in, so here’s the Reader Review of the first six months of 2013. More to follow tomorrow…


The year got off to an incredible start as TRO was awarded preferred bidder status for Calderstones Mansion House, Coach House and Stable Yard at Calderstones Park, Liverpool. Our vision for Calderstones is a community for everyone with reading at its heart, and we’re already building up the foundations of the future International Centre for Reading and Wellbeing at Calderstones with our shared reading and community event activity.

Scans of brain activity show intense electrical activity when reading challenging literature
Scans of brain activity show intense electrical activity when reading challenging literature

The work of the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS) attracted global attention with research headed by Professor Phil Davis finding that reading serious literature ‘acts like a rocket-booster to the brain’, and Read to Lead moved further afield with its first Belgian course. Reading aloud was also signified as the latest trend in an article in the Observer, which mentioned the work of TRO.


There was more press coverage of shared reading, this time in The Guardian as journalist Lynsey Hanley spoke about our work alongside her own experiences of finding support in fiction.

A very regal twist took place as we brought Read to Lead to Kensington Palace. Shared reading for the Queen? It could happen one day…


Eamee's awardThe Flemish reading revolution continued as Jane appeared at the Mind The Book festival in Antwerp, and one of our Wirral Apprentices Eamee was shortlisted for the Liverpool City Region Apprenticeship Awards, making it through a competitive shortlist to the final three for the Wirral region. Congratulations Eamee!

Elsewhere we celebrated World Read Aloud Day doing what we do best – need we say any more?


G31A6964After a good old tidy and the placing of some Readerly touches – including lots of cake – we opened the doors to Calderstones Mansion House for two public open days, inviting people to Connect With Us at Calderstones. We were expecting a few hundred – an amazing 1,200 people came to the Mansion House and shared their hopes, dreams and memories with us.

Our very first Shared Reading Practitioner Day happened in Liverpool, bringing qualified shared reading practitioners from across the UK together for a day of thinking, learning and, of course, reading, and we were delighted to be part of the wonderful World Book Night celebrations both as a book giver and at the Liverpool flagship event at St George’s Hall.


Jane and Andy 2 72dpiShared Reading for Healthy Communities, The Reader Organisation’s fourth annual conference took place in London, for a day full of considering how shared reading can contribute to building stronger, healthier and more connected communities. We welcomed our largest number of delegates to date to The British Library for a varied range of seminars and enlightening contributions from Andy Burnham MP, Professor Louis Appleby, Alan Yates and some of our shared reading group members.

There was more exciting development news as TRO was selected as one of the thirty winners of the Big Venture Challenge 2013 and teamed up with the Verbal Arts Centre in Northern Ireland, and our Reading in Secure Environments (RISE) project continued in Liverpool with visits from award winning poets John Burnside and Rita Ann Higgins.

Our first shared reading groups also got underway at Calderstones Mansion House.


Issue 50 cover online versionIt was a celebratory month as the beautiful, bumper 50th issue of The Reader magazine came off the press. Wishing us a happy birthday with new content were David Constantine, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Blake Morrison and Les Murray amongst many others, and we also delved into the Reader archives for a selection of gems from the previous issues. The issue received international acclaim, being called ‘magnificently rich‘ by American review website New Pages.

Jane was shortlisted alongside another inspirational Liverpool woman, Josephine Butler, at the Addidi Inspiration Awards, we brought RISE to London and Reading and read for wellbeing at the Southbank Centre, and as an organisation TRO received the PQASSO Level 1 Quality Mark.

Come back tomorrow for our Reader Review of 2013 Part 2: July-December.

A Quality day: Shared Reading Practitioner Day 2013

From Kate McDonnell, Quality Practice Manager

Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more “literary” you are. That’s my definition anyway. Telling detail. – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Care 72dpiThat’s one (wonderful!) way of looking at Quality: on a sunny Saturday in April, The Reader Organisation’s first Shared Reading Practitioner Day was full of them, and one of the most inspiring features of the day was the feeling of movement, of looking in at the same thing from different angles, of being challenged to keep thinking, to dig down into the detail.

The day marked The Reader Organisation’s new determination to explore what Quality in Shared Reading Practice means and to go on to produce a humanly useful Quality Framework – a living and lively system which won’t be a corset or suit of armour – constricting on the inside or the outside – but a support and inspiration for continuous growth.

The potential impact of shared reading on our public services, of how we live our lives and connect with one another, is enormous. Revolutionary. The significance of this intention begins with us, taking ourselves and our practice seriously; to have this Good Thing we are doing acknowledged as Great. In the opening to the day, as new Quality Practice Manager at The Reader Organisation, I introduced the notion of quality and what it means to us in the practice of shared reading; how the quality of what we are doing in real terms can take time to show its effects, but sometimes can seem to come out of Nowhere, a notion expressed in the poem that opened the day, ‘Spring is like a perhaps hand’ by e.e. cummings.

Patience 72dpiMost of the day’s workshops used literature itself to focus on values, qualities and ways of being which may be of help as we run shared reading groups. In my session, for example, entitled ‘Care’, we looked at a chapter from War and Peace in which a rough and ready peasant soldier uses kindly small talk and ‘telling a story’ to bring someone who has been traumatised after witnessing an execution back into communication with his fellow-man, whilst one of our most experienced project workers, Clare Ellis, ran a session on ‘Patience’, using extracts from George Eliot’s Silas Marner. I find this sentence she picked out particularly illuminating in relation to Quality:

‘Our consciousness rarely registers the beginning of a growth within us any more than without us: there have been many circulations of the sap before we detect the smallest sign of the bud.’

I love the fact that this gives us permission to take time, and that whether we’re ready to register it or not on the surface, if we’re nourished, there may be plenty going on beneath which will eventually burst forth. I hope we all felt that our sap had been well and truly circulated! As one facilitator running a shared reading group in a library emailed me after the day: ‘I feel replenished – it was like visiting a well.’

If you were a part of ‘Speaking our own Language’: The Reader Organisation’s first Shared Reading Practitioner Day, you can keep the discussions about quality shared reading going through logging on to the Shared Reading Hub, the resource for shared reading practitioners, at any time.

You can also let us know how the Shared Reading Hub can best support you in your shared reading endeavours by completing a brief online survey – all thoughts and responses welcome.

Featured Poem: A Part of an Ode by Ben Jonson

This week’s Featured Poem is a ‘quality’ choice from The Reader Organisation’s Quality Practice Manager Kate McDonnell:

Less than a week to go now to The Reader Organisation’s first Shared Reading Practitioner Day – Speaking Our Own Language – especially for people who have completed Read To Lead, and there are still a few places left As well as featuring special guest Anna Lawrence Pietroni, author of Ruby’s Spoon, the day will be jam-packed with inspirational workshops delivered by Reader staff, including the wonderful Brian Nellist, The Reader Organisation’s Director,  Jane Davis , and Angela Macmillan, editor of the A Little, Aloud anthologies. The event will be held on 20th April at Hope University’s lovely Creative Campus close to Liverpool City Centre and you can find out more information about it on The Reader Organisation’s website.

What better way to spend a spring Saturday than to top up your skills and spend time with like-minded people, full of stories of their experience of delivering shared reading up and down the country – and beyond?

The theme of the day will be quality – how we can recognise and develop it in shared reading practice – and here’s an extract from a Ben Jonson ode where he seems to be saying something helpful and encouraging about the liveliness of quality which somehow makes getting things right seem more do-able!

From A Part of an Ode

It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three-hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald and sere.
A lily of a day,
Is fairer far in May,
Although it droop and die that night,
It was the plant and flow’r of light.
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures, life may perfect be.

Ben Jonson

Shared Reading Practitioner Day: A World of Imagination

Imagination is one of the fundamental aspects of reading, and especially shared reading. When we read aloud, together, whole worlds open up within us – some fantastical and previously unimagined, and others much closer to the central reality of our lives.

The building blocks of imagination are unfolded and most vividly come to life for many of us when we have read as children, and indeed, our capacity to imagine is often opened up again when we read with little ones. Some of the most imaginative works of literature have been written from the perspectives of children or for children to enjoy, childhood being the place where imagination can truly run riot.

Just think of the truly imaginative, incredibly wacky Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
all mimsy were the borogoves,
and the mome raths outgrabe.

‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!’

This famous poem and many more stories to send the imagination soaring can be found in A Little, Aloud for Children. The editor of the book, Angela Macmillan, will be speaking at our first Shared Reading Practitioner Day about the very topic of Imagination, on what promises to be a truly imaginative and enriching day.

If you’ve been on Read to Lead, snap up the final remaining spaces for ‘Speaking Our Own Language’  at Liverpool Hope University Creative Campus on Saturday 20th April. Visit The Reader Organisation’s website for information and booking, or contact Sophie Johnson with any enquiries: sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk / 07973 247890

Shared Reading Practitioner Day: Relating Research to Reading

The Reader Organisation’s research partner, the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool, seeks to set the world agenda in:

  • Reading, health and well-being
  • New digital technologies and the future of meaning
  • The role of literature in modelling creative thinking about human existence

Their work is already making significant links between reading and cutting-edge research, discovering how reading challenging literature such as Shakespeare and Wordsworth can shift mental pathways and prompt new thoughts in readers, as well as highlighting the ways in which reading can help aid memory, good mental health and wellbeing, and you can discover more about the relationship between reading and research at Speaking Our Own Language’: our Shared Reading Practitioner Day 2013.

Professor Phil Davis and Dr Josie Billington from CRILS will be speaking at the special event, designed for Read to Lead graduates, about how the latest research into reading can practically help practitioners develop and understand more about their shared reading practice, both with others and themselves.

This invaluable opportunity to learn more about the research CRILS is doing will demonstrate how research is something to be embraced in relation to shared reading, especially when it can help us to speak our own language more clearly.

There are still a final few spaces left for Read to Lead graduates to improve their practice and join us on Saturday 20th April at Liverpool Hope University’s Creative Campus for a whole day of literary thinking and doing.

Visit The Reader Organisation’s website for all the information about the Shared Reading Practitioner Day and how to book. If you have any enquiries about booking or the day itself, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Sophie Johnson, Event Administrator on sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk or call 07973 247890

A bit of Nellibobs

What could be better than spending a bit of your Friday with the Godfather of The Reader Organisation, Brian Nellist a.k.a Nellibobs? Not much, we don’t reckon. Here for your delectation is something from the Nellibobs archive – on the topic of Being Happy (something you’re sure to be after watching…)

If you’ve been on Read to Lead, you have the chance to hear Brian speak in person at our Shared Reading Practitioner Day on Saturday 20th April at Liverpool Hope University Creative Campus. On the day, Brian will be leading a session on Imagination in shared reading. A treat not to be missed amongst many other very special workshops. Visit The Reader Organisation’s website to snap up your place without delay!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LAY75F6AsY]

You can find more Nellibobs goodness on his YouTube channel and Twitter – perfect to get you geared up for the Shared Reading Practitioner Day!

Anna Lawrence Pietroni to appear at Shared Reading Practitioner Day

Anna Lawrence Pietroni (2)The Reader Organisation’s first Shared Reading Practitioner Day, ‘Speaking Our Own Language’ is in just over two weeks time, and we’re delighted to announce a new special guest speaker at the event.

Anna Lawrence Pietroni, author of Ruby’s Spoon and patron of The Reader Organisation, will be appearing at Liverpool Hope University’s Creative Campus on Saturday 20th April. As the day marks The Reader Organisation’s commitment to fostering and developing quality in the field of shared reading, Anna, who has previously worked as a prison governor, will be discussing what she believes makes a ‘quality’ relationship between a writer and their readers.

Anna will be joining a bill full of engaging, literary-minded speakers, including Angela Macmillan, Professor Phil Davis and Dr Josie Billington from the Centre of Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool and Brian Nellist MBE.

If you’ve completed Read to Lead, why not come along to refresh your literary thinking and doing, tune into the latest developments in shared reading practice, and meet others from around the country at this unique event?

Tickets can be booked now from our website, via booking form and credit card. If you have any queries about how to book, contact our event adminstrator Sophie Johnson who is happy to help: sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk or call 07973 247890

Shared Reading Practitioner Day: Where are you coming from?

10 R2L Residential Sept 2011The Reader Organisation’s first Shared Reading Practitioner Day is fast approaching and, since facilitators are travelling from up and down the country to attend, we’ve been asking people to shout about why it’s worth the trip!

Here’s the latest feedback from two of our attendees, who are making their way to Liverpool from Stoke-on-Trent and Norfolk respectively :

‘‘It feels like quite a long time since I completed the Read to Lead training at Burton Manor. I essentially work alone as I am a volunteer with Stoke-on-Trent Library Service. This can lead to feelings of isolation and also (more worryingly) a sense of not always feeling challenged in my role.

I think it is important to pause now and again, to look around and see what others are doing. This may help to improve my own work. The Practitioner Day provides a great opportunity for this and I am really looking forward to having the chance to ‘hone my skills’ and soak up the enthusiasm of other Shared Reading Practitioners’’

– Heather Jones, Stoke-on-Trent Libraries

‘‘Since my excellent Read to Lead training last May I’ve been really enjoying running a variety of one-off sessions as a means of gathering evidence of the impact shared reading can have on individuals.

Being a Shared Reading facilitator can be a lonely job, especially when you don’t have a local network of fellow facilitators to share ideas, successes and enthusiasm with. Although the Shared Reading Hub is brilliant, I’m looking forward to meeting with other people face to face to find out how they’ve put their training to good use and to pick up hints and tips on how to promote sessions, how to manage the sometimes very powerful emotional responses created by shared reading and how to evaluate the impact of the sessions on people’s sense of wellbeing.

If the Read to Lead training is anything to go by it promises to be a really inspiring, stimulating and above all practically useful learning opportunity.’’

– Ben Miller, Norfolk Library Service

Both Heather and Ben really sum up the importance of the day as a chance to share with other facilitators and dig deeper into what makes a successful reading session.Visit our website for all the information on our Shared Reading Practitioner Day 2013 and to book your place without delay.

For those of you still sitting on the fence, please remember The Reader Organisation is here to help! Any requests for further information or accommodation tips can be sent to sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk or call 07973 247890 .

Shared Reading Practitioner Day 2013: Tickets On Sale Now

We’re pleased to announce that tickets for The Reader Organisation’s first Shared Reading Practitioner Day are now on sale.

Taking place on Saturday 20th April at Liverpool Hope University Creative Campus, ‘Speaking our own Language’ is a special event for anyone who has attended Read to Lead, focusing on quality in shared reading practice. A range of guest speakers, including The Reader Organisation’s Director Jane Davis, and tailored workshops will allow shared reading practice to be developed through a day of literary thinking and doing.

Spaces are limited: visit our website to download booking forms.

If you prefer to use your credit card, no problem, as you can also book via the Shared Reading Practitioner Day 2013  Eventbrite page.

If you have any questions and enquiries, please contact our event administrator, Sophie Johnson: sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk