One of The Reader Organisation’s largest strands of work is reading regularly with people living with dementia, and we currently have opportunities for people to get involved in volunteering sharing reading in this area across all three of our projects in Barnet and Brent, North London.
The three projects are:
- Altogether Better (leading reading groups in Community settings for people with dementia and their carers)
- Reading For The Brain (leading groups and reading One to One both in Care and Community Settings)
- Jewish Care (leading groups in Care and Day settings with people from early onset to advanced dementia)
Paul Higgins is our Co-ordinator for the Barnet Volunteering Project, and tells us more about the project and its significance to the lives of people taking part:
“Somehow, her Alzheimer’s made her more open, more truthful. There’s a kind of odd poetry in dementia that picks out jagged, glittering pieces of truth and makes you have to reassemble them”.
– Jackie Kay (talking about her mother in Red Dust Road) (2010)
We currently have 17 weekly shared read aloud reading groups spread across both Barnet and Brent, and these take place in both community and care settings. Our groups range from dementia friendly community groups to groups with members in advanced stage dementia, where people still recognise words and lines from poems both old and new.
Through our groups our volunteers are saying to people with dementia and their carers that we value them. By reading with people who may often feel lonely, isolated or frustrated, we take them out of themselves through the stimulation of the book or poem. Opportunity and space is created for the participants to reflect on their life experience, via memories or emotions evoked by the poem or story. Our successful model does not set boundaries in what is possible for people with memory impairment. Through our groups the participants remain creative, engaged and are enabled to better express themselves.
In our reading sessions we introduce quality literature, and this is often poetry with its compressed language, content, rhythms and rhymes. The conversations that emerge and the smiles that arise out of our reading sessions allow the readers in our dementia group settings to gain freedom, confidence and laughter in place of confusion and confinement.
In dementia linear, controlled time ceases to exist. Connections are made, lost and remade, and found again, continually inside the now of dementia. However, in our groups using our shared read aloud model, the same mind that cannot remember to eat or go the toilet can hold on to the lines of a poem.
This fluidity of time is just one reason that our shared reading projects work for people with dementia. Language is more than words. It is a moment in time that is held in a handful of words and a certain rhythm. All of the emotions connected to the poems that we read together awaken feelings and thoughts in the present, within the session and within the moment.
Our reading model also allows renewed connections to words as expressive language. Whilst the language centres of the brain can be severely affected by the disease processes in many types of dementia, poems and stories can allow someone to connect to words as a means of expression. Feelings and ideas can be shared through the words in the poem. These feelings or ideas might not find any expression in words if the person were left to attempt to put the words together for themselves. Our warm and kind sessions delivered by trained volunteers provide a bridge back to expression in language again.
This is a call to care. A call to bring beauty, humour and meaning to people who are living with Dementia through the power of poetry and prose brought alive in the present moment of the weekly reading session. Come and bring the reading revolution to more Older People in North London by volunteering with The Reader Organisation.
One of our current volunteers is Linda Ward from the Sam Beckman Centre in Hendon. Linda tells her story of what sharing reading with people living with dementia means to her:
I first heard about The Reader Organisation through a request for volunteers sent out by Jewish Care for whom I already volunteer. I met with Paul, the local co-ordinator, and was immediately enthused. I love poetry and the concept was something new. To be reading with people living with dementia was such a wonderful opportunity not just for those I would be reading with but very much on a personal level – to feel I was being of use to the community in a way that would give me immense pleasure.
The training was so interesting; I met some wonderful people who would be working in all different kinds of environments. The trainers were inspiring and incredibly motivating; they provide a wealth of ongoing support and advice. Putting the model into practice was easy; the system is tried and tested and really works extremely well. After my first couple of sessions with a wonderful group of seniors I soon got into the swing of things and I really look forward to each session. No two weeks are the same. There is such a huge source of material from hundreds of years of poetry and prose; it really isn’t difficult to find 2 or 3 pieces each week which will bring members of the group to life in some way – to laugh together, be sad and reflective together – to communicate on whatever level is such a privilege to be the initiator of.
We have opportunities to volunteer by facilitating groups or reading One to One with people with dementia. Full training and ongoing support is given to all volunteers. Full details of requirements for the role can be found on The Reader Organisation’s website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/barnet
For more information and to enquire about volunteering with us in Barnet and Brent, contact Paul Higgins by calling 07985 718744 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This week’s Featured Poem has been chosen in anticipation of the London Penny Readings, which will be taking place at the Southbank Centre this Sunday (12th October) as part of London Literature Festival. Having started last week, the theme for this year’s festival is ‘How the Printed Word Changes the World’, with a particular focus upon the optimism of the human spirit.
At the London Penny Readings, we’ll be hearing some of the greatest literature that has freedom at its core. A significant aspect of all lives, and perhaps taken for granted until the times when struggles are faced, everyone can appreciate the lure and the ‘light’ that freedom provides.
I will not follow you, my bird,
I will not follow you.
I would not breathe a word, my bird,
To bring thee here anew.
I love the free in thee, my bird,
The lure of freedom drew;
The light you fly toward, my bird,
I fly with thee unto.
And there we yet will meet, my bird,
Though far I go from you
Where in the light outpoured, my bird,
Are love and freedom too.
George William Russell
The London Penny Readings, featuring special guest readers Erwin James and Frank Hewteson, are just one penny to attend, but you can register your place before Sunday evening now: http://londonpennyreadings.eventbrite.co.uk/
Today is National Poetry Day 2014, and perhaps fittingly for the centenary year of the First World War, this year’s theme is ‘Remember’.
Certainly at The Reader Organisation there are many poems we’ve read over the years – and from week to week in our shared reading groups – that remain particularly memorable. Everyone can recall the opening to I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud by William Wordsworth, or perhaps Leisure by William Henry Davies (‘What is this life if, full of care,/we have no time to stand and stare’). On this National Poetry Day, Cambridge University is launching The Poetry and Memory Project, which is investigating experiences of poetry learning and how poetry not only interacts with memory but can contribute to the ways in which we think about and perceive the world. You can find out more about the three year long project here: http://www.poetryandmemory.com/
At The Reader Organisation we can testify to the importance of poetry for stimulating memory and helping us to think about ourselves and the world around us in new and sometimes challenging ways. From schoolchildren learning classic poems for the first time to people with dementia listening and interacting with verses from their childhood, poetry has something to unlock in everyone.
As part of the celebration of this day, people from all over the UK (and beyond) are being asked to ‘think of a poem’. Which poem is most memorable to you, and for which reasons? It could be something cherished for years, or otherwise something you came across just recently. You can share them on Twitter via the hashtag #thinkofapoem
And here’s a poem that sticks in the memory for us at TRO – and it’s short enough that you may even be able to remember it by heart:
Below the surface-stream, shallow and light
Below the surface stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say and feel — below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel, there flows
With noiseless current, strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed.
The Reader Organisation’s most popular annual event is returning for its eleventh year and is already highly anticipated – and today we can announce the dates for when you’ll be able to get your hands on tickets to the Penny Readings 2014, which returns to St George’s Hall in Liverpool on Sunday 21st December.
Tickets will be released to the general public in the week commencing Monday 17th November. This year, tickets will be allocated on a first come, first served basis, available both online, at Calderstones Mansion House and further distribution points to be announced at a later date.
Members of our shared reading groups will be able to apply for priority tickets two weeks before general release, on Monday 3rd November, and can apply through their group facilitators.
As ever, you’ll be able to apply for tickets to the family-friendly Ha’penny Readings in the afternoon as well as the evening event.
The Penny Readings have become a staple of the festive season in Liverpool, so make sure you pop the dates in your diary! Stay tuned for more information on what promises to be another spectacular show of reading, music and entertainment coming soon…
Last Tuesday was the first day of Autumn – you may already notice a flurry of leaves falling from the trees, as well as conkers (can you tell we’re looking forward to the North West Conker Championship this weekend at Calderstones Mansion House?).
Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them –
The summer flowers depart –
Sit still — as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.
How there you sat in summer-time,
May yet be in your mind;
And how you heard the green woods sing
Beneath the freshening wind.
Though the same wind now blows around,
You would its blast recall;
For every breath that stirs the trees,
Doth cause a leaf to fall.
Oh! like that wind, is all the mirth
That flesh and dust impart:
We cannot bear its visitings,
When change is on the heart.
Gay words and jests may make us smile,
When Sorrow is asleep;
But other things must make us smile,
When Sorrow bids us weep!
The dearest hands that clasp our hands, –
Their presence may be o’er;
The dearest voice that meets our ear,
That tone may come no more!
Youth fades; and then, the joys of youth,
Which once refresh’d our mind,
Shall come — as, on those sighing woods,
The chilling autumn wind.
Hear not the wind — view not the woods;
Look out o’er vale and hill-
In spring, the sky encircled them –
The sky is round them still.
Come autumn’s scathe — come winter’s cold –
Come change — and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne’er be desolate.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
We have been working within the Mansion House for 18 months since securing preferred bidder status from Liverpool City Council in January 2013. Since then, we’ve been welcoming thousands of visitors of all ages to enjoy shared reading groups, heritage tours and special events all aimed at creating a model reading community, the first of its kind in the UK – somewhere for people to read, learn, play, make new friends, find new opportunities and feel at home.
Other significant steps in the regeneration of the Mansion House have included opening a thriving social enterprise cafe, reopening the Gallery space to host passionate local artists and utilising the beautiful ‘secret garden’ of the Mansion House for theatre productions by Shakespeare’s Globe and other companies, as well as for our first Children’s Literature Festival. You can keep updated with all the current activity at Calderstones on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/calderstones
The signing of the lease means that we are able to start the next exciting stages of redevelopment, which will include working with members of the community to raise funds for vital mansion refurbishment, as well as working together to make sure local voices who feel a connection with the building are heard in the process. The project will need to acquire funding of £4 Million and has already secured a first stage Heritage Lottery Fund grant alongside a Social Investment Business feasibility grant.
We have been incredibly lucky to have the support of the community as well as Liverpool City Council in the first stage of this journey:
“This is a major step forward for the Reader Organisation’s plans for the Mansion House. It will enable them to press on with their exciting proposals to develop the building. We wanted the Mansion House to be taken over by an organisation that would bring it back into use in very positive manner and would protect its future. The work that the Reader Organisation are doing alongside us and the local community will ensure that happens. We are confident that by granting them this lease it will help the Reader Organisation go forward and make their proposals a reality to the enormous benefit of the city.” – Councillor Malcolm Kennedy, Liverpool city council cabinet member for regeneration
We are thrilled to have reached this stage and continue to develop the prospects for the Mansion House, Stables and surrounding buildings. Current future plans include the possibility of a bistro, accommodation for literary residencies, and the restoration of the much loved garden theatre. The Mansion House will continue to be open to the public whilst it undergoes future changes, not only with its shared reading groups but with rentable offices, catered events spaces and regular seasonal events.
‘This is a key milestone in the development of The Reader at Calderstones. We are very pleased that Liverpool City Council have confidence in our vision for the Mansion House and have backed it with a 125 year lease. Whilst the building will undergo a significant refurbishment over the coming years – we are very much open for business – you can attend shared reading groups, visit the café and gallery, rent event and office spaces – please come and visit the house!’ Dr Jane Davis, Founder and Director, The Reader Organisation
We’re just about to move our Head Office to Calderstones, so all systems are go for a bright future to begin for Readers across Liverpool and the rest of the country.