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Volunteers in the Spotlight

June 10, 2015

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

Featured Poem: An Obstacle by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

June 8, 2015
by

Already feeling frazzled at the start of the week? Take a few moments to yourself, breathe deeply, grab a cuppa and have a read of this week’s Featured Poem.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman is perhaps best known for her short stories – in particular the semi-autobiographical The Yellow Wallpaper, a popular choice to ponder in our shared reading groups – but she also wrote several poetry collections, and was undoubtedly a remarkable female writer of her time and a role model for authors and readers since.

If you’re facing any obstacles this week, take heart from this particular verse that you’re not on your own.

An Obstacle

I was climbing up a mountain-path
With many things to do,
Important business of my own,
And other people’s too,
When I ran against a Prejudice
That quite cut off the view.

My work was such as could not wait,
My path quite clearly showed,
My strength and time were limited,
I carried quite a load;
And there that hulking Prejudice
Sat all across the road.

So I spoke to him politely,
For he was huge and high,
And begged that he would move a bit
And let me travel by.
He smiled, but as for moving! —
He didn’t even try.

And then I reasoned quietly
With that colossal mule:
My time was short — no other path —
The mountain winds were cool.
I argued like a Solomon;
He sat there like a fool.

Then I flew into a passion,
and I danced and howled and swore.
I pelted and belabored him
Till I was stiff and sore;
He got as mad as I did —
But he sat there as before.

And then I begged him on my knees;
I might be kneeling still
If so I hoped to move that mass
Of obdurate ill-will —
As well invite the monument
To vacate Bunker Hill!

So I sat before him helpess,
In an ecstasy of woe —
The mountain mists were rising fast,
The sun was sinking slow —
When a sudden inspiration came,
As sudden winds do blow.

I took my hat, I took my stick,
My load I settled fair,
I approached that awful incubus
With an absent-minded air —
And I walked directly through him,
As if he wasn’t there!

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Jane Davis joins The Happy List 2015!

June 7, 2015

Jane Davis High ResWe’re feeling particularly happy today as Jane Davis, our Founder and Director, has made it onto the Independent on Sunday’s Happy List 2015!

The IoS Happy List was set up in 2008 to recognise and celebrate people who enrich the lives of others and make Britain a happier and more caring place to be. From charity fundraisers and founders to teachers, emergency service workers and community heroes, the Happy List features those who have made an extraordinary effort within their local communities and beyond for no personal gain, giving back to others instead. What makes the Happy List so special is that the nominations are made entirely by the public and readers of the Independent on Sunday.

As Founder of The Reader Organisation, Jane has pioneered the practice of shared reading as a way not only to experience the emotional power but also the sheer pleasure that comes from reading great literature aloud, together. From setting up the first ever shared reading group in Birkenhead in 2002, hundreds of groups now run across the UK reaching people of all ages, backgrounds and circumstances.  The combination of the texts read, a relaxed and informal atmosphere and being in the company of others on a regular weekly basis – as well as the additional treats of tea and biscuits – make the groups beneficial to many of our members, giving a boost to wellbeing and confidence as well as fostering new friendships.

‘I don’t know what it is but after this group I always leave feeling better. It’s like a life tonic.’

‘Shared reading is like sitting around a fire and telling stories to each other – a way of binding us together.’

– shared reading group members

Jane Louise moneyShared reading brings many happy moments to our Readers each week, but what is it that makes Jane happy? Getting out and admiring the blooms around our HQ at Calderstones Park is near the top of the list, and earlier this week she was joined on one of her walks by Louise Jones, a long-time group member. Louise gave Jane the remarkable news that since Jane announced her goal to get fit and raise money for the Calderstones Mansion project she has saved up £1 a week to put towards the fund. Not only that, but she presented Jane with the money that she has generously saved. A wonderful gesture which will go towards giving future generations a happy, welcoming and vibrant place to call a home from home. There’s still time to be part of the last push – you can sponsor Jane’s efforts by visiting her fundraising page.

The Happy List 2015 is available in full in today’s Independent on Sunday, and online. All the chosen 100 Happy Listers will be invited to a celebratory reception hosted in their honour by luxury hotel group Grange Hotels in central London this summer, and there’s even more exciting news ahead as every individual featured on the Happy List will also receive the accolade of being put forward for special recognition at the JustGiving 2015 Awards.

For more ways to feel happy, visit the dedicated Happy List digital hub: http://www.independent.co.uk/happylist/ and see @happylist100. Remember, you can always pop into one of our open shared reading groups around the UK too: see the full, up-to-date list on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reading-with-us

Volunteers Week: Award winning volunteers in Leicestershire

June 6, 2015

NC895 Volunteer Week Items_Twitter 01 AWVolunteers Week is coming to a close, and we’ve had a wonderful time celebrating all of our fantastic volunteers working alongside us throughout the country.

In Leicestershire, our shared reading project has taken off thanks to the volunteers we have trained to run weekly groups in partnership with Leicestershire Public Health and Library Services. Since November last year our volunteer facilitators have been connecting people with great literature across the area, with six of the seven open community library groups being led by volunteers.

All of their hard work has been noticed in style: in February this year, the Leicestershire shared reading project was runner up in the ‘Tackling the Social Determinants of Health, Public Health’ category in the East Midlands: Celebration and Recognition Event Awards.

Two of our volunteers, Kath Hewitt and Ingrid Davison, have been running a shared reading group at Coalville Library since December, and have shared a few snippets about their experiences so far:

Kath:

I am finding the sessions at Coalville Library very enjoyable and interesting. Ingrid is a delight to work with and very experienced at running groups which has been a great help in establishing the boundaries.

One of the first things which struck me about the course, the further training and the groups, is the ability of poems and short stories to open – or reopen – people’s minds to new thoughts. I have previously been involved in working with children as a social worker and as a teacher and the difference in spending time with groups of adults is huge. I believe there is something “childlike” about all art – but literature, in particular, for me, is about allowing ourselves to play “let’s pretend” and be carried along with the unfamiliar experiences/ideas which the author or poet is guiding us through. To do this in a group is extraordinary and seeing how different members respond is fascinating.

It is not without challenge – during the first weeks of our library group, I saw people who seemed uncomfortable with the fiction we were reading and made fun of it. They didn’t come back. Others would respond very literally and want to establish a lot of facts or complain that something “couldn’t possibly happen like that”. I’m hoping that as the weeks – and months – go by that different ways will open up for people to respond to what we are doing. For me, that would be the most important thing.

Ingrid:

Like Kath, I’m really enjoying our group at Coalville Library. I think Kath and I work really well together, and it’s great to have the support of a like-minded co-worker when starting a venture like this. Coalville Library is a good venue, in that it’s busy and used to hosting groups. Our group is small, with four regular members, but discussion is always lively, although sometimes we need a bit of careful management to keep the group focussed.

Training days have been inspirational, and I always come away feeling enthusiastic and refreshed. It’s great to meet other group leaders and share experiences. The support we have received has been invaluable.

If the stories of our volunteers have inspired you this week, we have current opportunities to volunteer with us to share reading with varied communities – from young people and teenagers to older people living with dementia. All volunteer roles benefit from full training and support from The Reader Organisation staff.

  • Knowsley Reader SchemeOur Knowsley Reader Scheme seeks to develop a team of volunteers who will read one to one with older people in Knowsley care homes. Volunteers can currently participate in the Knowsley Reader Scheme in the role of Reading Friend, visiting people in care homes to read aloud to them on a one-to-one basis.
  • Off The Page (Liverpool)Off the Page is our Liverpool Families project, which aims to improve the lives of disadvantaged children across the city through one-to-one shared reading experiences. We are looking for volunteers to make weekly visits to a child (aged from 11 to 16 years old) either in their own home, foster home or community setting to read aloud and discuss literature with them.
  • We’re also looking to recruit two volunteers on funded places to be trained to set up a Library Memory Group for people with memory loss and their carers in Taunton, Somerset. The Read to Lead course will take place on Monday 22nd-Wednesday 24th June. For more information, contact samanthaweaver@thereader.org.uk

 

Volunteers Week: Volunteering at Calderstones Mansion

June 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

June 4, 2015

“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.

‘Experience the very heart of The Reader': Recruitment Day

June 3, 2015

MFS_9477At The Reader Organisation we’re always on the lookout for new talent, and if you love literature and feel passionate about introducing others to a wealth of great books we’d love to see you at our latest Recruitment Day on Tuesday 9th June at Calderstones Mansion House, Liverpool.

You’ll be able to meet some of our staff and find out firsthand what it’s like to work with us, sharing reading with everyone from the very young to the elderly. It’s free to attend and you’ll get to experience the beauty of the Mansion House and Calderstones Park on what we hope will be a sunny day.

If that’s not enough to entice you, then here’s an account of our previous Recruitment Day from Emma Crago, Liverpool Project Worker:

I went to a Recruitment Day in November 2014 not knowing much about The Reader Organisation nor what to expect from the session. All I knew was that I was coming to the end of my Masters degree, I wanted to stay in Liverpool, and I really liked reading. I had nothing to lose so I booked my place and went along to the Mansion House to find out more. The day was very well structured. There was plenty of information about how The Reader started, what its goals and values are, and the areas in which it operates, so that you fully understand what you’re signing up to should you choose to apply! We had a break for lunch (you’ll find out soon enough that the fuel of The Reader is tea and cake) and then we did some shared reading on our tables. This, for me, was the best part of the Recruitment Day: to experience for ourselves the very heart of The Reader Organisation and the purpose for which it exists. Nicola was leading our table in the reading and discussion, and I found myself looking at literature in a whole new light. I’d never stopped to fully consider the deeper meanings and implications of a poem or a story before so it was really eye-opening to be part of that collective response to what we were reading. And the great thing was that I didn’t know it was happening until we’d finished and Nicola asked us to look back at what we’d just done. It was then that I realised what The Reader is all about and I was inspired to apply.

Fast forward 6 months and I am now well and truly a part of The Reader Organisation. At the end of the Recruitment Day, I filled out the various forms, had an interview, and was offered one of the Project Worker positions. I was surprised at the quick turnaround but it was reassuring to have something in place for the new year. The induction process was most thorough and it really made me feel at home very quickly. We heard from many different members of staff about how they joined The Reader, the different backgrounds they come from, what area they work in, and most importantly how they can help us in our role. The Reader Organisation doesn’t just have a list of values pinned up on the wall; it lives and breathes its values. No question is too silly, no problem is too difficult to overcome, and all members of staff are approachable to ask for help or advice. Since day one, I’ve felt the support network around me which has enabled me to grow and have ideas of my own. The Reader understands that a happy employee makes for a productive employee and, quite honestly, I love working here.

The Recruitment Day lasts from 11am-2pm and attendees must be there for the duration of the day. To register for your free place, please contact nicolacopeland@thereader.org.uk with your name and a contact number.

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