A CHARITY which aims to transform lives through shared reading said it is looking to greatly expand its activities after taking over Liverpool’s historic Calderstones Mansion House.
The Reader Organisation was chosen as the preferred bidder for the Grade II listed site in south Liverpool after the building was declared surplus to requirements by its city council owners.
The new premises will allow the charity to continue and also extend its work promoting the joys of literature, as well as working with some of the most vulnerable people in society to develop good mental health and increased wellbeing.
The organisation currently runs reading groups for those in drugs and alcohol recovery, children in care or excluded from school, and people suffering dementia and other age-related conditions.
The charity’s mission also extends to mainstream schools, libraries, community centres, and even supermarkets.
Following its selection as preferred bidder, The Reader will begin work with the council on transforming Calderstones Mansion House into an International Centre for Reading and Wellbeing.
This will see the building, as well as its extensive coach house and stable yard, being sympathetically restored and opened up for public use.
Facilities will include a bistro, facilities for conferences, events and training, a “new reader” library, and 20 high-quality en-suite study bedrooms and two self-contained holiday lets for local, national and international visitors.
There will also be space provided for a range of social and community enterprises, along with an annual Festival of Reading linked to Literary Liverpool tours.
Dr Jane Davis, founder and director of The Reader Organisation, said shared reading would remain at the core of the group’s activities. She added: “Having the mansion house as a base is going to allow us to do a lot more. The reading groups we run will continue, but at the same time we’ll be able to offer many more activities to people. We hope it’s going to be a way for us to show how different kinds of people who would never normally meet can connect with each other through sharing books.
“The model of reading now is that you do it on your own, but this is a relatively recent development. Before the 19th century and the onset of mass literacy, it involved a group of people coming together and reading aloud, so we have re-invented something which is very old.”
Dr Davis is herself a shining example of what can be achieved through reading.
After leaving school at the age of 16 with two GCSEs, she returned to full-time education as a young single mother and went on to gain a First Class degree, followed by a PhD, from the School of English at the University of Liverpool. She set up The Reader organisation after working for many years at the university’s department for continuing education, where she saw for herself the beneficial effects the reading aloud of great literature had on adults who had either never read a book before or had not picked one up since school.
Jane said: “I discovered by accident that adults like being read to as much as children do, because the reader partly acts out what they’re reading.
Her efforts were recognised with an MBE for services to reading in 2011.
Although Liverpool is and will remain its headquarters, the charity has expanded to the rest of the UK and now has a total of 70 full-time staff. This includes a community worker who goes out and about in Everton with a pink shopping trolley to try and get people in the area interested in reading.