Big Lottery Volunteers celebrate end of a remarkable chapter
As the Big Lottery Merseyside project comes to an end, Volunteers met to celebrate the end of one chapter, and the beginning of the next. The Reader's Head of Membership, Ben Davis pays tribute to a fantastic project and the people who made it.
On Saturday night a large group of us met to mark the end of the five year Big Lottery Merseyside project with a celebration at The Florrie in Liverpool.
The Big Lottery project has in itself been remarkable. My colleagues have trained volunteer Reader Leaders to run Shared Reading groups in care homes and read one to one in people’s homes, and admin volunteers who have worked tirelessly to sort and catalogue hundreds upon hundreds of poems to keep our Reader Leaders stocked with great material.
Between them, these volunteers have created 35,000 reading experiences over the life the project. They have made a monumental difference to the lives of the people they have read with. But they have also done something else very important for the organisation as a whole – they have changed the idea of what The Reader is and what it will be. The energy, commitment and skill of these people has changed how volunteers fit into our organisational structure.
Rose is 77 and has been a Care Home resident for three years
"We’re all pleased about you coming! We feel like somebody cares. We didn’t know what to expect when we first started the group, but what we got was lovely! It makes you feel important, that you matter because you want to know what’s going on. I mean if you didn’t come, we’d have nothing to think about.
It’s surprising what it does to the mind. Your mind starts wondering when you’re unhappy, it wanders too much. After you’ve been and we’ve read these poems, I think it helps a lot. Everything in your mind seems clearer. I often think about them after you’ve left."
As the Big Lottery Merseyside scheme neared an end, over 80% of the Reader Leaders on the project expressed the hope and intent to carry on reading with people despite the official project's conclusion. Over the last few weeks my job has been to find a way to help them do that while staying connected to The Reader and after lots of big thinking and consultation with staff and volunteers, we're rolling out a pilot scheme with Big Lottery volunteers which we hope to see replicated nationwide very soon.
So on Saturday Night I went along to celebrate the success of this wonderful project, applaud the volunteers' hard work and to show my face, the face behind some of the letters they have recently received.
After some lovely food the celebration continued with a dance - barn dancing! It was joyful to see so many people who might have been a little downcast at the end of the project beaming as they cast off, many of the women taking a leading role in the dance to balance the numbers, and the sound of laughter as we got the steps wrong nearly drowned out the band, That's My Dad.
Over the course of the project I have come to know a few of the volunteers well and throughout the evening I was struck by what incredible, personal journeys so many of these individuals have embarked upon through the Big Lottery Merseyside project. A moment of particular poignancy for me came during the dancing. One lady, who I know doesn't feel at all comfortable with physical contact with others, joined in the dancing and was happy to bring her hands to within an inch of mine, a humbling act of her trust.
There will have been many more of these 'wow' moments throughout the night that my colleagues will have appreciated in the volunteers with whom they've worked so closely over the past five years. Their support and guidance has helped to make these moments possible, just as the volunteers have helped to make them possible for the people they've been reading with, and indeed will continue to read with despite the end of this amazing project.
Being a Reader event, there wasn’t just food and dancing but also a poem. Seamus Heaney’s Scaffolding, which appears in a special new anthology, Poets Don’t Lie, put together by our volunteers, seemed especially apt:
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall,
Confident that we have built our wall.
- Seamus Heaney, Scaffolding
On behalf of The Reader and all those who has been involved in the Big Lottery Merseyside project, I'd like say a huge thank you to our masons Megg, Anna, Christine, Katie, Chris, Graham and all those Reader Leaders, admin volunteers and partners who have built our wall!