Celebrating the power of reading on World Book Day in Grantham

Stories from Creative Responsibility

An elderly man reading The Poetry Pharmacy at Gregory House care home in Grantham

It’s now an annual tradition for Penguin Random House colleagues to spend World Book Day volunteering in schools, libraries, homeless shelters and community settings, sharing their passion for books and reading.

On World Book Day 2020, over 500 volunteers reached 6,000 children, young people and adults in some of the most literacy-vulnerable parts of  London, and local to our warehouse sites in Essex and Grantham. One of these volunteers was Simon Goldstein, Head of Operations at Grantham Book Services.

For the second year in a row, Simon and some of his team visited Gregory House, a local care home for the elderly.

"It's not just about the book,
it's about the company as well.
And books help with socialising."

Simon listening to a resident talking at Gregory House in Grantham.
"The elderly can often ignored in society – but we're all going to be old one day. Part of a parents' responsibility is to help their children stay engaged with reading. And, I think on the other side, the elderly sometimes don't have anyone. So I think it's very important that we look at that side of society as well."

Hands of an elderly person holding The Poetry Pharmacy and their own notebook.
Elderly woman with pink nail polish holds a Grantham gingerbread man and her copy of The Poetry Pharmacy alongside a cup of tea.
An elderly woman in a pink cardigan reading from The Poetry Pharmacy in front of a bookcase.
An elderly woman in a pink jumper and glasses reads from The Poetry Pharmacy.
Hands of an elderly person holding The Poetry Pharmacy and their own notebook.
Elderly woman with pink nail polish holds a Grantham gingerbread man and her copy of The Poetry Pharmacy alongside a cup of tea.
An elderly woman in a pink cardigan reading from The Poetry Pharmacy in front of a bookcase.
An elderly woman in a pink jumper and glasses reads from The Poetry Pharmacy.

Reading aloud from The Poetry Pharmacy by William Seighart, Simon and his colleagues discussed the meaning of the poems with residents Jean, Bobby, Frank and Phyllis; how they made them feel, and how they might connect with the poems today.

'I think everyone relates to poetry, because everyone read poetry at school, especially in their eras when it was the thirties and fourties. It was really touching that everyone knew by heart, 'The Owl and the Pussycat' because that's what they were taught at school.'

A view through a walker of an elderly woman in her yellow chair holding a copy of The Poetry Pharmacy.

"It's such an uplifting experience to read with other people."

An elderly woman laughing in her chair.

After listening to Simon reading aloud, Jean volunteered herself to read a favourite poem she'd spotted in the book, which gently encouraged others to do the same. The session transformed, with Simon taking on the role of listener, as the poems were read and discussed. Familiar titles such as You'll Never Walk Alone proved especially popular and they discussed how hearing the poem again made them feel.

Seeing the group so invested, Simon was happy at how the session had naturally evolved: 'It was brilliant seeing them engaged. That's the highlight of my year, so far. For that person to ask to read a poem, is fabulous. It feels like a job done. We really achieved something.'

"You can become emotionally attached to a book, and that attachment is for life."

Simon in his workplace standing in front of a view of the warehouse a Grantham Distribution Centre.

Simon discussed why he felt it was important to volunteer on World Book Day: 'We already have the books, which makes it so powerful. Grantham is a very small town and a lot of people know each other, so I think that us reading with the people at Gregory House, and my colleagues at the Blind Society and at schools today – it really helps us connect with the community.'

Reading can be a solitary activity, but it doesn't have to be. Reading with a group can open you up to new perspectives, and be a space to share thoughts and experiences. Something as simple as reading a poem together can reveal a whole new meaning for both people. Simon looks forward to connecting again with Jean, Bobby, Frank and Phyllis at Gregory House on a more regular basis.

"I just want to help people, especially people in need. One of the ladies today said she can get quite bored during the day time, and we can help change that."

Simon smiling leaning on a box of books with the Penguin Random House UK Distribution logo.

Photographs by Kate Holt