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‘Reading changes lives’ – charity launches the UK’s first centre for literature and wellbeing in Liverpool city park

Written by Rachael Norris, 13th September 2019
  • Pioneering space aims to start a national conversation about the impact of literature and the arts on health and society
  • Includes new exhibition centre, The Calderstones Story, which tells the 5,000-year history of life in Liverpool
  • As part of this, the Calder Stones, older than the Great Pyramid at Giza, are open to public for the first time, charting the evolution of storytelling

The newly refurbished Mansion House


National charity The Reader is opening the UK’s first centre dedicated to demonstrating the power that literature has to change people’s lives.

Opening after the three-year refurbishment of the Mansion House in Liverpool’s Calderstones Park, the International Centre for Shared Reading puts the UK at the forefront of a worldwide ‘Reading Revolution’ that has followers in countries including Australia, Brazil, Germany and the US.

The new space takes a community-centred approach to health and wellbeing, providing meaningful opportunities for people of all ages to connect. The project marks the ‘next chapter’ of The Reader’s story, after more than a decade being commissioned to read aloud in prisons, care homes, hospitals and community spaces across the UK.

The charity has already supported thousands of people to live well and connect with others through ‘Shared Reading’. The opening of the International Centre for Shared Reading will bring a major expansion of its work, enabling The Reader to offer many more people the chance to experience literature’s life-supporting benefits, through a range of activities known to be good for our health.

In 2019, 91% of readers attending Shared Reading groups in communities across the UK reported that it ‘helps me to feel better’, while 84% said that they had ‘made new friends in the group’.

One group member, who began attending a Shared Reading group while receiving treatment at a psychiatric hospital in Wirral, Merseyside, said: “I really believe that it’s the reading groups that have helped me more than anything else – they are a different kind of medicine and it’s through them that I’ve found a way back into life.”

The initial programme of activities includes gardening, heritage, nature walks, yoga, art and crafts, along with more than 30 Shared Reading groups, and a range of new jobs and volunteering opportunities. There is also a new café, a shop, event spaces, reading rooms, a wellbeing studio and commercial offices for hire.

Visitors will be able to travel back in time in a dedicated exhibition that tells the story of life in Liverpool, beginning in the late Stone Age. In the garden, you can get up close to the ancient Calder Stones that give the local area its name, inside their purpose-built home. Inside, imaginative exhibition rooms weave together the life of the Calder Stones and the Mansion House, alongside the development of storytelling and literature.

Lord Alan Howarth of Newport, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, who was recently appointed as a patron of The Reader, said: “I’m delighted to be associated with such a ground-breaking initiative which will be an exemplar for how the arts can support longer lives better lived.

“Given the challenges facing the existing health and social care system, it’s clear that we all need to work together do things differently. The Reader’s work here at Calderstones has huge potential to help the NHS deliver social prescribing.”

The Reader’s founder, Jane Davis, said: “Literature’s power to help us make sense of things, bring us closer to others and spark change is needed more today than at any other time since The Reader started life in 1997.

“The International Centre for Shared Reading sits at the heart of a new kind of community where literature is part of the fabric of daily life. Providing people with more opportunities to find increased meaning, purpose and a sense of belonging through activities such as Shared Reading, gardening and walking, can help us all to lead healthy and productive lives.”

The International Centre for Shared Reading is open to all and free to enter. It officially opens its doors to the public on Saturday 14 September. The centre is based in the 200-year-old Mansion House in Calderstones Park in Liverpool, which has recently undergone a £5 million refurbishment project.

The refurbishment project has been supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Liverpool City Council, Garfield Weston, The Tudor Trust, AKO Capital, Ravensdale Trust and The Pilkington Charities Fund.

The emerging programme is being backed by a number of supporters including The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, People's Postcode Lottery and The National Lottery Community Fund.

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