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The Reader makes the shortlist for social enterprise

October 6, 2015

Wonderful news to share from our HQ as we can announce that The Reader has made the shortlist for two prestigious awards highlighting the impacts that social enterprises are making both on a regional and national level.

SENFor the third year running, we’ve been shortlisted in the Social Enterprise Network Powerful Together Awards. For the 2015 Awards, The Reader has been listed in the Growth Award category, recognising businesses and social enterprises that have a track record of consistent growth in the Liverpool City region against the backdrop of a difficult economy, clearly demonstrating entrepreneuralism and resilience. A total of 20 organisations made the shortlist from 90 nominations, and we’re delighted to be included in the category – especially at a time when our social enterprises are expanding at our base at Calderstones, with the imminent launch of both The Reader Ice Cream Parlour and Storybarn, the North West’s first interactive story centre for children and families.

Natwest SE100We’re proud to have our impact recognised on a nationwide scale, as we have also made the shortlist for the 2015 NatWest SE100 Awards. 21 organisations from across the UK have been selected from 1,200 organisations signed up to the SE100 Index, highlighting the strength of the social enterprise sector and its ability to create both social change and economic growth nationwide. We’re on the list for the Resilience Award, alongside three other organisations from around the country, highlighting social ventures which ‘continually deliver positive social or environmental change and repeatedly achieve impact goals, keeping focused on delivering their mission whatever the weather’. The Reader is one of only two social enterprises representing the North West on the shortlist so we’re thrilled to be flying the flag for our home region.

The winners of both the Powerful Together Awards and NatWest SE100 Awards will be announced later this month, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed and wishing the very best of luck to our fellow nominees.


Featured Poem: An October Garden by Christina Rossetti

October 5, 2015

October has arrived and with it, the chillier days of Autumn. The golden and falling leaves provide us with a last flurry of colour before the greyer winter months set in, and although the season might start to signal that ‘all the world is on the wane’, as Christina Rossetti puts it, it’s a good time to get outside and breath in that autumnal air before there’s too much rain to dampen the enjoyment.

An October Garden

In my Autumn garden I was fain
To mourn among my scattered roses;
Alas for that last rosebud which uncloses
To Autumn’s languid sun and rain
When all the world is on the wane!
Which has not felt the sweet constraint of June,
Nor heard the nightingale in tune.

Broad-faced asters by my garden walk,
You are but coarse compared with roses:
More choice, more dear that rosebud which uncloses
Faint-scented, pinched, upon its stalk,
That least and last which cold winds balk;
A rose it is though least and last of all,
A rose to me though at the fall.

Christina Rossetti

Sea Fever, Fish and Chips: Merseyside Volunteers Celebration

October 2, 2015

From Christopher Lynn, Volunteer Assistant

‘I must go down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and the sky’
John Masefield – Sea Fever

Pic 5All of The Reader’s Merseyside-based volunteer projects joined forces for our ‘No Frills Fish and Chips social’ in New Brighton last week. The Big Lottery, Off the Page and Calderstones volunteers came together to round off the summer with the sea, a stroll and some tasty fish and chips. It was our way to thank our volunteers for their relentless care and commitment.

We were welcomed by the endless blue of the wide sea and sky on a beautifully mild, calm evening (phew!). After gathering at The Mediterranean Sea Fish Bar we set about ordering and serving our group of 40 or so volunteers, efficiently and swiftly taken care of by Big Lottery Manager Megg!

Whilst feasting, we had the opportunity to act as socialites; chatting, welcoming and spotting connections between our fellow volunteer colleagues.

After dodging a few gulls and conquering our mountains of chips, we eventually gave in to that elusive pull of the sea as some of the group set off for a full-bellied stroll. We settled to take in the evening sea view and were treated to an improvised reading of John Masefield’s Sea Fever from Emma – a stand-out moment for one of volunteers who kindly reflected her highlights in one of my admin sessions this week:

‘It was good to get together – meeting new people and staff you haven’t seen. I enjoyed when we did the poem on our walk!…Getting out and about. The Fish and Chips were absolutely beautiful!’ – Lesley

Pic 1A satisfying summary that seems to touch upon that need to feel connected; to experience the camaraderie of volunteership, as well as being part of The Reader family.

A special thanks to The Mediterranean Sea Fish Bar who prepared mountains of fish and chips and were very accommodating when our forty strong group descended on their shop. A real team effort from Gillian, Katie, Megg, Celia and Emma who planned the event, communicated throughout and arranged various meeting points to suit the different needs of our volunteers – many thanks everyone!

Find out more about our volunteering projects in Merseyside and across the country on our website:

Shared reading in Bebington Central Library: Great at 8

October 1, 2015

This week has seen an amazing milestone in the story of shared reading (so far), with one of our longest running group members celebrating a special anniversary.

Carol Munns was part of the very first shared reading group – a six-week pilot project at St James’ Library in Birkenhead, from which our hundreds of groups now operating across the UK on a weekly basis originated. After an initially reluctant start, Carol discovered a love of reading through the group, went onto obtain a GCSE in English and applied for a job at Bebington Central Library.  Six months on from starting in the library, she decided to set up her own shared reading group for the community. In September 2007, the group at Bebington Central Library had its first session – and eight years on, it’s still going strong!

Each week, Carol reads with her regular members – there’s an average of 12-14 who come, and the group is proving so popular at the moment that there’s a waiting list of attendees. Most of the Bebington readers are older, living in sheltered accommodation or otherwise isolated from many social activities. Others have commitments of caring for their relatives and loved ones and don’t get much of a chance to have some time that is just their own, purely to unwind. In Carol’s words, “people come to switch off and relax with the love of a book”, and it is through this that lasting bonds and friendships have been formed. The accessible setting of the library – close by for group members – coupled with the opportunity to connect with others within the community makes the group something ‘unique’.

“The reading group saved me when my husband was sick”

“Everyone [in the group] has been kind to me when I lost my confidence” – shared reading group members, Bebington Central Library

There have been many highlights over the eight years the group has been running – a number of theatre trips have been embarked upon, showing how the group’s passion for literature goes beyond, and also participated in our Wirral Community Shakespeare project in 2008. Asking Carol about her own stand-out moments from the group’s history, she was quick to mention Mary, one of Bebington’s longest serving group members. Mary had led a full life, travelling across the world before returning to Wirral in her later years. Loneliness became an increasing problem for her before she began attending the group. Mary has since passed away, but Carol recalls how even with all the adventures she had experienced she called going to the group “the highlight of her life”.

The group celebrated their special anniversary by reading The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam as well as enjoying a spot of lunch and will soon be heading on an outing to the local cinema to watch a live theatre broadcast of The Importance of Being Earnest – another book they have read and enjoyed.

All of us at The Reader offer our biggest congratulations to Carol and the Bebington group – and here’s to many more years of shared reading together!

Featured Poem: At a Lunar Eclipse by Thomas Hardy

September 28, 2015

Some of us might be feeling slightly drowsy this morning, that’s if you were amongst the many sky-watchers who stayed up into the early hours to witness the ‘Super Blood Moon’. The lunar eclipse coincided with the Moon in its closest orbit to the earth, casting a red glow in a moon larger-than-usual across the sky – quite a sight to behold, and one that won’t happen again until 2033.

If you were too busy sleeping to catch the Super Blood Moon as it was ‘live’ in the skies, then this poem by Thomas Hardy might just do the job of helping to recreate the atmosphere – along with some pictures, of course.

At a Lunar Eclipse

Thy shadow, Earth, from Pole to Central Sea,
Now steals along upon the Moon’s meek shine
In even monochrome and curving line
Of imperturbable serenity.

How shall I link such sun-cast symmetry
With the torn troubled form I know as thine,
That profile, placid as a brow divine,
With continents of moil and misery?

And can immense Mortality but throw
So small a shade, and Heaven’s high human scheme
Be hemmed within the coasts yon arc implies?

Is such the stellar gauge of earthly show,
Nation at war with nation, brains that teem,
Heroes, and women fairer than the skies?

Thomas Hardy

‘The magic of story’: The Unforgotten Coat in Germany

September 24, 2015

The Unforgotten Coat has been on quite a journey since its publication in 2011 for The Reader’s Our Read campaign. It’s been shared in schools and universities, at festivals and events and has garnered several award wins and nominations. We’ve been amazed at how the story – inspired by true events – has become a global sensation, but not all that surprised given that it was penned by the brilliant Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Recently, Frank embarked on a trip which highlighted not only the appeal of the book but also its relevance to current events that are happening across the world. He writes for us:

Frank Cottrell Boyce making the children's keynote lecture at the Berlin International Literature Festival

Frank Cottrell Boyce making the children’s keynote lecture at the Berlin International Literature Festival

A few months ago I won a prestigious book award in Germany – the James Kruss prize. This involved me in the difficult work of being wined and dined and feted in one of the world’s most beautiful libraries – the International Children’s Library in Schloss Blutenburg near Munich. I wrote about the experience here. It also involved me giving the children’s keynote lecture at the Berlin International Literature Festival last week.

I find it surprising and thought-provoking that all this prestige comes from the book I wrote for The Reader in response to the badgering of Jane Davis – The Unforgotten Coat. This is a book I wrote quickly, inspired by a Mongolian girl I met in a school in Bootle. It’s illustrated with photographs taken by friends Carl Hunter and Clare Heaney. It could not be more home-made. Yet it seems really to have hit a chord in Germany.

The events were all packed. I was taken to schools and to a refugee project where the kids were doing work inspired by the book. A party of Mongolian children turned up, delighted by the fact that the book’s heroes are from Mongolia. It’s always been well-regarded in Germany (it won the state-sponsored Jugendliteraturpreis last year) but the events of the summer, and the refugee crisis in particular, have made it seem relevant and timely. I was even invited onto the news to discuss the crisis, which turned out to be slightly embarrassing as I only remembered that I don’t really speak German when I was on already on air.

There’s something to be said here about the magic – or the grace – of story. When the book was written there was no refugee crisis. I wrote it purely because its two swaggering, resourceful, vulnerable heroes seemed fun and real. When politicians are referring to refugees as “swarms” and “floods” as though they were the plagues of Egypt, it’s important to be reminded that we are talking about individuals – as needy, as worthy, as eccentric as we are ourselves.   Narrative is a great mental and moral discipline.

Frank Cottrell BoyceIt also says something about the inherent internationalism of children’s stories. When I was growing up I was immersed in stories that came from Finland, Africa, the Middle East – but they all seemed to belong to me, part of my inheritance every bit as much as Scouse or the Beatles. By the way, The International Children’s Library was founded by Jella Lepman – a Jewish refugee who got out of Germany just in time and then, when the war was over, went back to help rebuild it. Imagine that. She got away. She got a nice job at the BBC. Then she went back. The more I think about it, the more I think that’s one of the most moving and salutary things I’ve ever heard. She went back because she thought that children’s stories were important. I put her picture over my desk and say a prayer each morning that I don’t sell her vision short.

I went home via Hamburg where I took my little son to see “Miniatur Wunderland” – a terrific display of model towns and villages. One room contains a series of scenes of one street through time. From the Bronze Age, through the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, the Nazis (“in the far corner we can see Rosa Luxembourg being murdered …”), the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Wall and then… it doesn’t stop. The next few cases show visions of what the same street might be in the future. Each of those cases has been put together by one of the main political parties. They were each asked to show what their vision of the future would look like at street level. It was revelatory and oddly moving to see that politicians dream too.

This is a picture of the Miniatur Wunderland version of the collapse of the Wall.

Miniatur Wunderland picture (Frank CB blog)


The Unforgotten Coat received its international premiere at the Berlin International Literature Festival on 9th September at the Children and Young Adult Literature section of the festival, with a special focus on ‘Escape, displacement and migration’.

“Good stories help us make sense of the world. They invite us to discover what it’s like being someone completely different.” – Author Gillian Cross writes for The Guardian on how fiction can help us to understand the Syrian refugee crisis. The Unforgotten Coat has been offered as one recommendation (and we agree), but there are many more, suggested by readers here.

An exhibition of original digital and Polaroid-style photographs from The Unforgotten Coat by Carl Hunter and Clare Heaney is on display at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield until Saturday 26th September.

Featured Poem: On Her First Ascent to Helvellyn by William Wordsworth

September 22, 2015

We’re still on a figurative high after the highest shared reading group ever at the summit of Mount Snowdon over the weekend, so for this week’s Featured Poem we’re staying with the theme of ascending mountains. Perhaps with the inspiration of Wordsworth, Helvellyn might be our next shared reading target – we’ll already have the reading material sorted…

On Her First Ascent to Helvellyn

Inmate of a mountain-dwelling,
Thou hast clomb aloft, and gazed
From the watch-towers of Helvellyn;
Awed, delighted, and amazed!

Potent was the spell that bound thee
Not unwilling to obey;
For blue Ether’s arms, flung round thee,
Stilled the pantings of dismay.

Lo! the dwindled woods and meadows;
What a vast abyss is there!
Lo! the clouds, the solemn shadows,
And the glistenings–heavenly fair!

And a record of commotion
Which a thousand ridges yield;
Ridge, and gulf, and distant ocean
Gleaming like a silver shield!

Maiden! now take flight;–inherit
Alps or Andes–they are thine!
With the morning’s roseate Spirit,
Sweep their length of snowy line;

Or survey their bright dominions
In the gorgeous colours drest
Flung from off the purple pinions,
Evening spreads throughout the west!

Thine are all the coral fountains
Warbling in each sparry vault
Of the untrodden lunar mountains;
Listen to their songs!–or halt,

To Niphates’ top invited,
Whither spiteful Satan steered;
Or descend where the ark alighted,
When the green earth re-appeared;

For the power of hills is on thee,
As was witnessed through thine eye
Then, when old Helvellyn won thee
To confess their majesty!

William Wordsworth


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