Big plans are afoot to transform The Reader Organisation’s premises at Liverpool’s Calderstones Park into an international centre for reading. It’s Liverpool discovers more.
From a distance, Calderstones Mansion has what Jane Austen might have described as a “pleasing aspect”. The 19th century mansion house is in the heart of one of Liverpool’s most beautiful historic parks.
Since 2013 it has been the home to The Reader Organisation, a site for reading groups and shared reading, to improve wellbeing and inspire reading pleasure.
Yet as grand as it looks from a distance, up close it’s obvious the mansion is in need of a tender hand. Leaking, a little crumbling, the £1.99m Heritage Lottery Fund investment secured by The Reader to restore and showcase the Grade II listed Mansion House and the 4,000 year old Neolithic monoliths known as The Calderstones has come in the nick of time.
The Reader’s base at the Mansion House has provided the impetus it needed to be brought back to life. With the investment it will become a flagship International Centre for Reading. Work will begin to secure the building, gradually hidden architectural elements will be revealed and restored.
“You don’t need to be literate, it’s about experiencing that group and that text live…”
“Calderstones is what we call a flagship”, explains Emily Crawford from The Reader. “Anyone can visit us. We want to be a real community hub where all people can come and experience what we do”.
Within The Reader’s shared reading groups, everything is read aloud. It’s an accessibility and inclusive approach that cuts through boundaries and welcomes all. “You don’t need to be literate, it’s about experiencing that group and that text live.
“Some esteemed titles and authors, like George Eliot and Charles Dickens, might initially be more difficult for people to connect with. But when they’re books read aloud you get to have your say on that character and what they can feel. We have university professors coming to our groups, along with people who can’t read, with no qualifications, and they can both sit together and connect with that story”.
There is a powerful ability, lying within the pages of a book that The Reader taps into and their work isn’t confined to just at Calderstones. “We’ve been commissioned in mental health, prisons, schools, nurseries the community. We don’t call it therapy, but there’s a lot of therapeutic outcomes to the work”.
It’s part of a wellness and a wellbeing approach they take through literature. “When people connect to stories they connect their experience and different elements of their own life. When it’s done through a book there’s almost a protection there. You can understand what’s happening through a story”.
The Heritage Lottery Fund will enable that work to continue. There will be four key reading rooms enabling more people to connect through literature, along with a new bistro and a heritage room showing people what the house might have looked like in 1880.
That’s not all. In February the Story Barn opens. It’s one of the projects being developed in the old stables (where the ice parlour is) to create a children’s literature centre. Upstairs a large room has an interactive robot at one end and a hot air balloon at the other. There will be exhibitions, live readings and a craft room.
“Everything says that “childhood” is really the most important time to get books into the hands of young people. Books at an early age affect ongoing education, you get that love of literature at a young age. It will be a real immersive experience, for children and young people”.
Time for a new chapter.
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