Volunteers’ Week: Read of the Week: The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

This week’s Read comes recommended by Charlotte, Training and Support Lead for our Shared Reading North West Volunteers. She’s chosen Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders.

Continue reading “Volunteers’ Week: Read of the Week: The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy”

Volunteers’ Week Featured Poem: The Tyger by William Blake


Especially for Volunteer’s Week, our Featured Poem comes from our Volunteer anthology Poets Don’t Lie. William Blake’s The Tyger has been chosen by Barnet volunteer Fred.

Continue reading “Volunteers’ Week Featured Poem: The Tyger by William Blake”

Volunteers’ Week: John’s Reader Story

The second in our series of Reader Stories for Volunteers’ Week comes from John who first found Shared Reading while recovering from addiction.

Continue reading “Volunteers’ Week: John’s Reader Story”

Volunteers’ Week – Helen’s Reader Story

We kick start Volunteers’ Week with a powerful Reader Story from one of our volunteer Reader Leaders.

Continue reading “Volunteers’ Week – Helen’s Reader Story”

Volunteers in the Spotlight

Last week was Volunteers Week, and we had a great week celebrating the efforts and achievements of our many volunteers around the country here on The Reader Online. But we’re happy to report that there were some special goings-on in the offline world too.

Our Barnet Volunteers and Coordinator Paul Higgins with actress Claire Skinner at the Tricycle Theatre, discussing 'The Father'
Our Barnet Volunteers and Coordinator Paul Higgins with actress Claire Skinner at the Tricycle Theatre, discussing ‘The Father’

Over in London, our Barnet Volunteer team enjoyed a trip to the theatre to watch the acclaimed play The Father at the Tricycle Theatre as Volunteers Week started. They were even lucky enough to catch up once the curtain fell with one of the leads of the cast…
Volunteer Claire Sive shares the experience of the night:

Wow! Eleven volunteers from The Reader stepped down from the theatrical roller-coaster which was ‘The Father’ into The Tricycle Theatre bar to gather their equilibrium before being joined by Claire Skinner, Kenneth Cranham’s co-star in this production of Florian Zeller’s 2014 Moliere award-winning play.

The Father, “loosing all my leaves” – as the stage lost all its furniture – and his daughter grapple with extreme pain exposed by unstable fractured narratives, repetitions betraying anxiety underscored by interchanging actors, each scene framed by LED lights that dazzled, accompanied by a piano maddeningly in search of its tune. Skinner alluded to the pauses in the script causing as much concern as the words. Indeed as the stories told by the characters to describe their situations broke down, the emotion drained through the gaps.

The Reader volunteers leading shared reading in dementia settings know how productive those gaps can be to discover new thoughts, meanings and recollections stirred by the texts we bring. It was a privilege and cautionary to viscerally experience the spaces between relatives negotiating family myths, tensions and desires and to renew our respect for our clients, their carers and their families.

Our Admin Assistant Volunteers and Merseyside Volunteer team looking great on camera
Our Admin Assistant Volunteers and Merseyside Volunteer team looking great on camera

Our HQ at Calderstones Mansion House played host to a special lunch last Wednesday celebrating our Admin Assistant volunteers working on the Big Lottery funded Merseyside Volunteer Reader Scheme. A wonderful afternoon was had by all, and Christopher Lynn, one of our Volunteer Assistants on the project, fills us in:

A knees up was the least we could do to thank our office-based Admin Assistant volunteers for all the brilliant work they do week in week out; maintaining and managing resources for our Care Home Readers who share reading with older people across Merseyside. The whole thing was a Reader collaboration, with the café providing a delicious lunch, photographs and gift presentations, as well as being treated to a fascinating tour of the park in the shining sun.

‘At every thought and deed to clear the haze
Out of our eyes, considering only this,
What man, what life, what love, what beauty is,
This is to live and win the final praise’
– extract from ‘Outlook’ by Archibald Lampman

We opened with a shared reading of ‘Outlook’ by Archibald Lampman that inspired many thoughtful contributions and brilliant group discussion. But the poem planted one seed that blossomed into a particularly satisfying comment from one of our longstanding volunteers, L. During our tour through the park she said:

‘It feels goods to be appreciated! It’s like in the poem ‘to win the final praise’; it’s like what The Reader have done today, and also it’s important to praise yourself for all the work you do – that’s the ‘final praise’; to praise yourself. We enjoy volunteering, and The Reader gets something from it too – it works both ways’.

A big thanks goes out once more to our volunteers, and we’re thrilled they’ve been able to share in such memorable experiences.

If you want to find out more about volunteering with us and to see current opportunities, visit our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering

Volunteers Week: Volunteering at Calderstones Mansion

Calderstones Mansion House c Dave JonesSince we set up home in Calderstones Mansion House, there’s been lots for us to do – not only in running shared reading groups and a range of activities for the local community, but also get a thriving cafe up and running, hold a series of seasonal events from summer fairs to Christmas grottos and make sure that the Mansion is a warm and welcoming place to be, with its doors wide open (Monday-Friday as well as the occasional weekend).

It’s been no easy feat, and our volunteers at Calderstones have helped every step of the way, taking on a variety of roles that go beyond what we usually do – although rest assured, reading will always get in one way or another…

Our Calderstones Volunteer Manager Gillian Moore introduces us to three of our ever-growing team:


Janet joined us at Calderstones earlier this year and covers one shift every Thursday between 9:00/12:30 on Reception at the Mansion House. Janet had been going to the Penny Readings every year for some time and had promised herself that she’d find out more about The Reader Organisation and shared reading. Although she didn’t ever get round to that, she followed up an advert for volunteering opportunities with the Merseyside Volunteer Reader Scheme. Janet recognised that she wasn’t in a position to commit the time the project was going to require of her and, luckily for us at Calderstones, accepted the suggestion that there was likely to be an alternative role (and therefore time commitment) at the Mansion House.

Janet’s pleased to have found Calderstones and feels it was a better decision for her because her volunteering activity here fits much better around her existing commitments. She loves the building and the park environment and is a real people person so values the opportunity to interact with everybody visiting the Mansion House. Her responsibilities as a Volunteer Reception Assistant are to meet and greet, answer the phone, direct callers, email messages to staff, show people to rooms and (she’s being very hard on herself here) turn on the computer, forget the password and have to phone for help!

The best things about the role have been:

  • Meeting new people
  • Finding and reconnecting with people
  • Getting to know what’s happening
  • Being kept on her toes!

Janet’s advice to anybody thinking of volunteering with TRO would be:

  • There’s so much to gain
  • It beats sitting at home and watching daytime TV
  • Meet new people
  • It’ll broaden your outlook
  • There’s a big world out there if you’re prepared to make the effort
  • It’s worthwhile and rewarding

Since joining volunteering  Janet has reread Heidi by Johanna Spyri – she remembers it as book she loved as a child!


Amanda’s also a Volunteer Reception Assistant since October/November 2014 , having seen the role description on The Reader Organisation’s website when she was looking for childrens’ activities here. She liked the sound of the role as well as the location being close enough to school to pick up her son at the end of his day. Amanda covers Reception on Monday and Wednesday between 12:30/2:30pm. She looks after and tidies Reception so that it creates a welcome for everybody, she greets visitors, answers the phone and passes on messages to members of staff. She’s also really good at liaising with other Volunteer Reception Assistants when there have been gaps in the rota!

Amanda enjoys the role and especially appreciates meeting new people. She’d say to anyone thinking of volunteering with The Reader at Calderstones, ‘Do it! You’d really like it. It’s a lovely place to work’, and the best book she’s read since beginning to volunteer is The Big Monster’s Night Out (to Harry aged 3!)


A came to volunteering here at Calderstones through the Volunteer Centre and was looking to build on skills gained previously through college courses in catering. At that point, about 12 months ago, A had never heard of The Reader but came in to find out more about volunteering in The Reader Café, liked what he was hearing about the opportunities there’d be for skills and confidence development and decided initially to offer one day of his time to the café team. Since then, A has increased his offer of time to three days a week! A likes supporting front of house, making coffee and other hot drinks, taking orders and payments, as well as taking turn about at the sink and clearing tables.

A likes that as a volunteer he doesn’t need to take on as much responsibility as a paid member of the team – it provides him with greater freedom. He’s definitely learned some new skills and in becoming more aware of the ways in which other people within the café team pay attention to their health and wellbeing he’s felt inspired to take more control of his own and has become much fitter as a result.

The best things about volunteering for A are:

  • It keeps him busy
  • He meets new people
  • It’s been a new and positive experience
  • He’s accountable but without the same pressure as paid staff

The best thing A’s read since he’s been volunteering is a short story called Powder by Tobias Woolf which he read in one of our shared reading groups.

If you’d like to know more about volunteering at Calderstones, see our website or contact gillianmoore@thereader.org.uk

Volunteers Week: From Group Member to Volunteer in North Wales

“I think volunteering and community work is very valuable for me and also for society as a whole.”

“Volunteering here is as much for my enjoyment as the members of the group…it’s not all about literature, but more about facilitating real and sometimes emotionally significant discussions which really pay off as people get to know each other and the different pieces.”

– volunteer shared reading group facilitators, North Wales

Today for our celebrations in Volunteers Week, we’re saying a big ‘diolch yn fawr’ to our volunteers in North Wales. Since our bilingual Llais a Llyfr/Make Friends with a Book project began in the region in 2013, our team of volunteer group facilitators have been vital in spreading shared reading across all six counties – in fact, they outnumber our two project workers by a considerable ratio!

United by a love for literature, our volunteers scatter around the region on a weekly basis – in some cases, making journeys that are 16 miles long – to share a carefully chosen and prepared selection of stories, poems and novels with communities, in English and Welsh, along with lots of tea and biscuits.

One of our volunteers really understands the ins and outs of shared reading – Mavis came along to one of the groups and became a long standing member. Having gained in self-confidence and feeling increasingly comfortable and enthused by the literature, she expressed an interest in volunteering with one of the groups and has been on board ever since.

Mavis tells us more of her journey from group member to volunteer in her own words:

I came to the reading group shortly after losing my husband, as I used to come to the library thinking it was the only place I had the confidence to go. Right from the word go I felt comfortable, I could talk easily with people and there was a kind of friendship right from the very beginning with everyone that attended. The group was an island of calm as I was still coming to terms with the ordeal and turmoil of losing my dear husband. With the group I was able to indulge in my passion of reading with some nice people who also had a love of books and reading. It also opened up new horizons, expanding both the range and scope of literature amongst everyone there. Reading aloud and sharing opinions with the group members has helped enormously in my self confidence gradually returning.

I was both happy and surprised when it was suggested that, perhaps, I should to go on the Volunteer Facilitator 3 Day Workshop at Llanberis.  As a very mature lady (in years) I took my courage in both hands and registered my interest. Fortunately I was accepted and completed the course. I think the group has given me the confidence to speak out. I never thought I could read out aloud, in public kind of thing. It was a big leap of faith for me, but I thought ‘I’ve come this far’, and you can’t do half measures; you must go on…and so I did.

I went into the training feeling rather nervous to begin with, but it was just like entering a bigger reading group. As a volunteer I’m hoping I can help people in the way that the group has helped me, that it will bring to them a different kind of literature that they’ve never thought of reading before and that they find interesting and enable them to go further with their reading.

In becoming a Volunteer Facilitator I am now able, in a small way, repay all the help, belief and encouragement the group and the organisation have given me over the last 12 months. It has brought back my confidence, given me new friends, who have invited me to poetry & book readings, a guitar recital in the cathedral and a local musical concert. So I now feel that my life has purpose and I have re-joined the Human Race. Thank you so very, very much!

Thank you, Mavis – and also to our many other fantastic volunteers in North Wales.

Find out more about our North Wales project and volunteering with us in the area on our website.

Volunteers Week: Volunteer Reading in Barnet

“Discovering new literature or re-connecting with familiar material is very enjoyable for the volunteer as well as those in your groups and meeting like-minded fellow volunteers is a real bonus” – Helen Deal, volunteer facilitator, Barnet

“I am always more energised at the end of the sessions that we run and am always glad that I went. Even on those rare Tuesday mornings when I may not feel like going to the group and may have to make myself go – I never regret it!” – Vivian Wood, volunteer facilitator, Barnet

One of our volunteer-led community shared reading groups in Burnt Oak, Barnet
One of our volunteer-led community shared reading groups in Burnt Oak, Barnet

Volunteer Week 2015 continues, and today we’re visiting our volunteers in London where we’ve been running our volunteer-led project since 2011. In Barnet, our volunteers facilitate shared reading groups and one-on-one sessions with people living with dementia and their carers, as well as reading with whole population groups in care homes, day centres, community centres and libraries across the borough. Our ever-expanding team of volunteers work individually and in pairs to lead groups, bringing the stimulating, imaginative and enjoyable experiences that come from literature back into the lives of people with conditions that may be considered limiting.

Week on week the groups can prove insightful and challenging in different ways, yet our Barnet volunteers find numerous highlights which are not only testament to the power of reading but also how rewarding volunteering in these settings can be:

“Only a couple of members in my advanced dementia group are able to join in and read coherently, but I like that other individuals are clearly able to follow the poems and seem attentive to the words and the sounds of them. One of the members in particular, ‘Margaret’, has a real air of anticipation at the beginning of each session and is always very focused on those reading. Her eyes are very expressive and when we have prompted her she has managed some appropriate responses:  after a poem about sisters she volunteered her sister’s name – ‘Winfred; younger but taller’ – and some poems about friendship lead to another more vocal member of the group, Cecilia, befriending Margaret, taking her hand, asking her to smile, telling her ‘you are a very lucky woman, because so many people love you’. It was very heart-warming and suggests that although most of these group members now have very limited speech, there is still a lot going on inside.” – Helen Deal

“I am still surprised at how beautifully many residents read who may not otherwise be very articulate, pulling out so much meaning and so many feelings from the words. A lady who I thought might have nodded off whilst we were reading The Jabberwocky and were discussing what the creatures might look like, rose from her recumbent position to say, ‘he must be a chatterbox, you know, jabber, jabber…’ and then she seemed to fall back to sleep, rather like the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland. Another time a man remarked how in The Magpies by Denis Glover the lines that told the sad story of the couple lay right alongside the funny, crazy noises of the magpies, ‘just like life’. Or the day when after reading three poems about birds a woman said, ‘I hate caged wild birds but you have brought three wild birds into the room and we have heard them sing.’ ” – Claire Sive

In time for Volunteers Week, we have a new group led by volunteers starting in Barnet this week, specifically for people with memory loss and their carers. The Feel Better with a Book group runs weekly at Manor Drive Methodist Church Hall, Whetstone on Thursdays, 10-11.30am.

We’re also recruiting for new volunteers to join the project. Applicants will receive training and ongoing support in their role and will be making a long term commitment to The Reader Organisation and their community. We can only offer this advice, direct from one of our current volunteers, if you’re wondering whether it might be for you:

“Join in and be a group member and experience it live. Go with an open mind and open heart. You need to like and be interested in people – forgive them –not everybody is lovable, but everybody has a story.” – Kate Fulton, volunteer facilitator, Barnet

For further information on volunteering in Barnet, please contact Paul Higgins: paulhiggins@thereader.org.uk or call 07985 718744

Our Top 5 tips for reading with young people and teenagers

Emma and Colette joining Roger Phillips for a studio selfie at BBC Radio Merseyside!
Emma and Colette joining Roger Phillips for a studio selfie at BBC Radio Merseyside!

This afternoon to celebrate Volunteers Week, Emma Melling and Colette Greggs took to the airwaves with BBC Radio Merseyside’s Roger Phillips to spread the word about Off The Page, our biggest volunteer recruitment initiative to date.

We’re looking for volunteers who want to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children (aged from 11 to 16 years old) across Liverpool through one-to-one shared reading experiences. Not only will the project directly engage the children themselves with a love of reading for pleasure, but will also extend to the adults in their lives – be they parents, carers, family support workers, community staff and volunteers.

Think you might be up for this rewarding challenge? Emma and Colette tell us their top 5 tips for reading with this age group:

  1. Be passionate: make the story come alive! This can only happen if you care about what you’re reading. What books, poems or stories do you wish you could help a young person discover for the first time?
  2. Be patient: volunteers need to commit to reading an hour a week with a young person, for six months minimum. It may take weeks for a young person to overcome an initial resistance to reading. Enjoy the journey you take together – both of you may learn a lot from each other.
  1. Be flexible: something going down less well than you’d hoped? Don’t take it to heart. It may be that your young person isn’t ready to take on your suggested reads, or maybe they’re just not interested in that kind of thing. Be prepared to have options at the ready and don’t be afraid to change course if necessary – it’s all progress!
  1. Be bold: don’t be afraid to introduce new, sometimes darker material, particularly with older teenagers who may show greater engagement if they encounter literature that resonates with young adult issues and preoccupations. Always be sensitive to individual needs however!
  2. Be a role model: set an example, and not just when it comes to reading. You’re in a privileged position at a formative stage in a young person’s life. Afterwards, they should be remembering you as a positive influence – maybe you’ve even made a difference to the course of their future.

For more details of how to volunteer, please contact Celia Jordan, our Off The Page Project Manager, on celiajordan@thereader.org.uk or 07812 238 395 – or come along to our Summer Fair on Saturday 6th June at Calderstones Mansion House.

Volunteers Week: Merseyside Volunteer Reader Scheme

The Merseyside Volunteer Reader Scheme is our longest-running volunteering project, starting in 2011. Funded by Big Lottery, the project has provided volunteers with opportunities to develop their personal skills and confidence, creating volunteer readers who are helping to transform the lives of older people across the region through regular shared reading sessions. Since the project began, our volunteers have provided thousands of shared reading experiences to some of the most isolated older people living in Merseyside, giving meaningful social interaction and helping to lift mood through the beauty and deep emotion of poetry.

As well as offering reading-based roles, the Merseyside Volunteer Reader Scheme also provides admin opportunities at our offices in Liverpool, Wirral and Calderstones Mansion House. Many of our admin volunteers experience or are at risk of experiencing mental health difficulities, isolation and employment, and the Merseyside project gives them the chance to build on and learn new skills in a supportive environment that allows them to develop at their own pace, taking on new roles in time if they wish to do so.

From photocopying and filing, sorting and organising the vast stack of poems and short stories that we use in our shared reading groups and courses, to manning our reception desk at Calderstones Mansion House, our admin volunteers help to keep the show on the road! Many of our day-to-day activities simply would not run as smoothly as they do without the input of our dedicated team.

Here’s some of our Merseyside admin volunteers, explaining what volunteering means to them in their own words:

“I find all kinds of volunteering here very stimulating. I enjoy working in a friendly atmosphere, where volunteers are treated the same as staff and are welcomed.” – David

“I enjoy being with the staff and other people I work with. I get on with everyone.” – Lesley Tinsley

“My favourite things about being a volunteer are meeting like-minded people and having lots of interesting work. It gives you something positive and fulfilling to do.” – Siobhan Jones

“Everyone is very welcoming and works hard as a team. I would say that volunteering is an excellent opportunity not to miss. It provides you with a wealth of skills and experiences that will set you up for future career paths.” – Daniel McCarthy

Reading is a big part of volunteer life, and our admin volunteers get the chance to read regularly as part of their own shared reading sessions. In fact, several of our volunteers say that the groups they attend are the highlights of their week. Below they share some of their best reads from the time they’ve been volunteering with us:

  • The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore – Paul Williams
  • Leisure by W.H. Davies;  A Little, Aloud – Lesley Tinsley
  • Invictus by W.E. Henley, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, Digging by Seamus Heaney – David
  • Blue Remembered Hills by A.E. Housman – it got me a lot more interested in poems – Daniel McCarthy
  • The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes – the most beautiful and romantic poem I have read so far – Siobhan Jones

Find out more about our Merseyside Volunteer Reader Scheme by visiting our website, or contacting our Volunteer Assistants Katie and Chris: katiestevenson@thereader.org.uk christopherlynn@thereader.org.uk