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Featured Poem: Mending by Hazel Hall

January 5, 2016

Happy New Year from The Reader Online – we hope that all of our readers had an enjoyable and restful festive season and that you’re settling into the new start, wherever you may find yourself.

Though we approach each year with a sense of the undiscovered, it’s surprising just how much we hold onto traditions to see in the year ahead. Old habits are as much on our minds as new beginnings, not to mention that January is a good time to clear out clutter – a process which can lead us to contemplate what we need to hold onto as well as the changes we can make. It’s with this slightly peculiar combination that we ponder this poem by American poet Hazel Hall, and how the New Year is not so much a chance for a complete overhaul but perhaps to ‘mend’ our neglected intentions – maybe even get back to the sewing project or book you haven’t visited in a while? A good time to catch hold of the ‘ravelling threads’ before they unravel beyond recognition.


Here are old things:
Fraying edges,
Ravelling threads;
And here are scraps of new goods,
Needles and thread,
An expectant thimble,
A pair of silver-toothed scissors.
Thimble on a finger,
New thread through an eye;
Needle, do not linger,
Hurry as you ply.
If you ever would be through
Hurry, scurry, fly!
Here are patches,
Felled edges,
Darned threads,
Strengthening old utility,
Pending the coming of the new.
Yes, I have been mending …
But also,
I have been enacting
A little travesty on life.

Hazel Hall

The Reader Review of 2015

December 23, 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 Curious Incident of Reading Aloud

December 22, 2015

Joanne Sarginson has been working with us since September as People Intern at our head office in Liverpool. She writes for The Reader Online about her own personal experience of reading being shared within her family – particularly with her brother – and the significant impacts it can have.

My brother was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of eight. I was ten at the time and had recently discovered the Harry Potter series. As a result, I thought that ‘dyslexia’ sounded like a spell everyone’s favourite boy wizard would utilise in order to disarm an aggressive Death Eater.

Dyslexia had a significant impact on my brother’s relationship with books and the way in which he perceived reading in general. In the years following his diagnosis he visited a series of specialists, almost all of whom recommended that he read for at least an hour per day with one of my parents. The idea was to make books more accessible. By reading aloud, my brother was forced to engage with the writing before him. The words were no longer a cluttered mass of letters on a page and were instead clearly verbalised, allowing him to establish a greater connection both with the characters in the book and message that the author was trying to convey.

However, although he was making progress, a sense of obligation soon began to develop around the idea of reading. Every time that my brother picked up a book, he did so under the impression that there was something wrong with him – that he had ‘special needs’ and that he was reading in attempt to fix himself. As a result, reading quickly became an activity that he associated with pressure as opposed to pleasure. He was increasingly reluctant to read. Eventually, my mum was forced to entice him into his daily reading sessions under the condition that she would reward him with a Curly Wurly at the end.

On a couple of occasions, my brother asked me why I liked reading. I like to think I gave the following response:

“For me, one of the best things about reading is the sense of shared experience. It is comforting to establish a connection with a character, to visualise an element of yourself within them, something which enables you to think ‘that’s what it’s like for me’.

In reality, it was probably much less eloquent and more along the lines of ‘sometimes, I feel the same as the characters’. Hoping to engage his interest, I asked him if he had ever experienced a similar connection with a fictional character. He frowned for a moment and then said:

‘I guess I connect with Captain Underpants.’

Captain Underpants is a children’s book series in which two mischievous school children hypnotise their headmaster, compelling to remove his clothes and perform heroic acts in his underwear. I asked my brother in what way he felt related to Captain Underpants. Was it the idea of a lack of control, the feeling as if he didn’t have total authority over his own actions?

‘I wear underpants too,’ he said.

the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-promoI read Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with my brother when he was fourteen years old. Before this, my attempts to read with him had been largely unsuccessful. I did not possess the natural authority of a parent figure and, unlike my mum, did not have access to a supply of coveted Curly Wurlys. As a result, my offers were frequently met with a range of responses, including ‘no’, ‘nope’, ‘no way’, ‘nah’, ‘not going to happen’ and ‘books are gay’. My brother’s lack of interest in books frustrated me and I would often moodily contemplate what gave him the right to so forcibly reject my noble and selfless sacrifice of my time, let alone comment on the sexual orientation of a piece of literature. On the rare occasions that he did allow me to read with him, his focus would be erratic and he would rapidly become disinterested.

Initially, it was a similar experience with The Curious Incident – the same shifting eyes, small sighs and restless fidgeting. However, this changed when we reached p56 of the novel and read a passage in which the main character, Christopher, who has Asperger’s syndrome, comments on his perception of special needs:

‘Everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult and also everyone has special needs, like Father, who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him from getting fat, or Mrs. Peters, who wears a beige-colored hearing aid, or Siobhan, who has glasses so thick that they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs.’
(The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon, p56)

My brother was completely still. After a few seconds, he opened his mouth and quietly said:

‘that’s kind of a little bit how I feel too’.

Over the course of a month, we made our way to the end of Haddon’s novel. A few weeks later, I found my brother reading The Hunger Games. There were no Curly Wurlys involved. He had volunteered as tribute.

You can read more from Joanne over on her blog:

Featured Poem: A Song for a Christmas Tree by Louisa May Alcott

December 21, 2015

The countdown to Christmas is getting less and less with each passing hour, and hopefully by now you’ll be finding the chance to unwind and sit back, looking at the glimmer of the lights upon the Christmas tree. If you still need to get the last bits done, then here’s a poem to get you through the last of the preparations with festive cheer in your heart from Louisa May Alcott – perhaps Little Women is one of the classic novels you’ll be reading over the holiday period?

A Song for a Christmas Tree

Cold and wintry is the sky,
Bitter winds go whistling by,
Orchard boughs are bare and dry,
Yet here stands a faithful tree.
Household fairies kind and dear,
With loving magic none need fear,
Bade it rise and blossom here,
Little friends, for you and me.

Come and gather as they fall,
Shining gifts for great and small;
Santa Claus remembers all
When he comes with goodies piled.
Corn and candy, apples red,
Sugar horses, gingerbread,
Babies who are never fed,
Are handing here for every child.

Shake the boughs and down they come,
Better fruit than peach or plum,
‘T is our little harvest home;
For though frosts the flowers kill,
Though birds depart and squirrels sleep,
Though snows may gather cold and deep,
Little folks their sunshine keep,
And mother-love makes summer still.

Gathered in a smiling ring,
Lightly dance and gayly sing,
Still at heart remembering
The sweet story all should know,
Of the little Child whose birth
Has made this day throughout the earth
A festival for childish mirth,
Since the first Christmas long ago.

Louisa May Alcott

Volunteer with The Reader in Merseyside

December 18, 2015

Looking for something new to do in the New Year? Want to use your love of reading to help make a big difference? We’re currently recruiting for people to join our Merseyside Volunteer Reader Scheme, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, in a variety of roles.

“Their faces light up when we walk in. They look forward to that hour. And when we leave, after being with a group, we feel great ourselves.”
Our volunteers provide shared reading sessions for older people across Merseyside on a weekly basis, either as Care Home Readers working in pairs to deliver groups in care homes, and Reading Friends who visit older people in their own homes. Full training and support is provided, and you don’t need to be a lifelong or experienced reader to take part – all abilities are welcome.
If you don’t feel that a reading role is for you just yet, then we also offer Admin Assistant and Admin Reader roles at our offices in Calderstones and Birkenhead, with the opportunity to develop your personal reading as well as helping us with our day-to-day running, preparing short stories and poems to be read within groups across Merseyside.
Take a look at the video below to see what being part of the Merseyside Volunteer Reader Scheme means to our beneficiaries and volunteers:
Volunteer training will commence on Friday 22nd January 2016 at Calderstones Mansion, Liverpool. For more information about the Merseyside Volunteer Reader Scheme, please contact Megg Hewlett, Volunteer Manager:

Shared Reading in Libraries

December 17, 2015

P1000169‘Well I just love coming. It’s something to look forward to. It makes you think…when I’m here I don’t think of anything else.’ – shared reading group member in Melton Mowbray Library, Leicestershire

Each week our Shared Reading groups are taking place in libraries across the UK, connecting people of all ages and backgrounds with literature and one another. From groups improving health and wellbeing in West London to groups that help stimulate memories and reconnect older people with those closest to them in Wiltshire and the South West, shared reading in library settings is creating a variety of positive impacts for individuals and within local communities.

Take a look at how Shared Reading works in libraries across the UK

Researching Reading Groups

Are you a facilitator or a member of a Shared Reading group? A small collective of experienced researchers with backgrounds in education and lifelong learning are currently exploring the part that libraries play in supporting reading groups, including shared reading groups, in the community and in promoting reading for pleasure. Their research will document what is currently happening and highlight best practice in this important area of libraries’ work.

To help, they want to find out more about why people join Shared Reading groups and why they keep coming. If you have a story about your experience of Shared Reading in libraries, please do get in touch.

For more information, please contact Lesley Dee:

Here are some examples of what’s happening around the country

During shared reading sessions, people may identify with the experiences revealed by characters in literature and find a way of linking it to their own lives – perhaps subconsciously. Over time, and with the help of the support of others in the group and the texts that are read, they may feel confident enough to find their voice on difficult subjects and discover different perspectives within themselves. A is one of our regular group members at Seacombe Library, Wirral:

P1000174“A, who attends the group each week, is a keen reader and it’s always a pleasure to share a story with him. Recently we read an extract from Dickens’s Great Expectations that introduces the reader to Miss Havisham and her self-imposed seclusion at Satis House. I asked A what he made of Miss Havisham and why he thought she lived her life in that way. ‘She could be scared’, was his response. I agreed with him and asked why he thought that was the case. ‘Because she’s stuck in the past; she still wears the same clothes and doesn’t want to move on’.

I asked A to imagine he were Pip and standing before Miss Havisham. ‘What advice would you give her?’ I asked. ‘To move forward slowly’. I thought this was a really insightful comment, and perhaps one that mirrors A’s own experience. We ended the group with A asking if he could keep his copy of the extract so he could read it again in his own time. It was with this request that I realised how much the group had meant to him.”

It’s not only our readers who are benefitting from sharing stories in their local library, but also volunteers – over in Leicestershire, our project with Leicestershire Libraries is almost entirely run by volunteers, creating hundreds of reading experiences and lasting friendships across the county, including the weekly group in Oadby Library:

“What was the best thing for me was seeing, possibly for the first time, the real benefit of shared reading. B said she just listened with her eyes closed to me reading which she found very helpful. By the end of the session her colour had literally returned and she forgot herself and, helped by D’s personality and the literature, became animated and laughed. Equally S and D had apparently been reading poems to each other the previous day and D has joined a poetry appreciation group, inspired by reading poetry in our group.”

Featured Poem: The Winter’s Spring by John Clare

December 16, 2015

It may not officially be Winter until next week, but no doubt the woolly hats and scarves have long come out of storage for the chill that is lingering in the air. Though people are often quick to point the minus points of the season (along with the lower scale of temperature), there is much to celebrate about the coldest time of year too. To those who may be in doubt of any positives, why not take a read of this poem by John Clare – almost a love poem with the declaration “To those who keep their hearts their own/The winter is the spring“.

The Winter’s Spring

The winter comes; I walk alone,
I want no bird to sing;
To those who keep their hearts their own
The winter is the spring.
No flowers to please–no bees to hum–
The coming spring’s already come.
I never want the Christmas rose
To come before its time;
The seasons, each as God bestows,
Are simple and sublime.
I love to see the snowstorm hing;
‘Tis but the winter garb of spring.
I never want the grass to bloom:
The snowstorm’s best in white.
I love to see the tempest come
And love its piercing light.
The dazzled eyes that love to cling
O’er snow-white meadows sees the spring.
I love the snow, the crumpling snow
That hangs on everything,
It covers everything below
Like white dove’s brooding wing,
A landscape to the aching sight,
A vast expanse of dazzling light.
It is the foliage of the woods
That winters bring–the dress,
White Easter of the year in bud,
That makes the winter Spring.
The frost and snow his posies bring,
Nature’s white spurts of the spring.

John Clare


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