ReLit and bibliotherapy launch event
We were delighted to be asked recently to attend a launch party in honour of a quadruple birth: the Bibliotherapy Foundation charity, the Stressed/Unstressed poetry anthology, a related online course, and the ReLit website that Agile Collective built and launched before Christmas 2015.
The event was hosted by Warwick Business School on the 17th floor of the Shard in London, a suitably soaring setting for an ambitious project that promotes the reading of poetry as a radical means of helping with mental health issues such as stress, depression, anxiety and PTSD. One of poetry's special qualities is to slow down language and in so doing it makes the reader aware of ambiguity, unusual phrasing and how thought is expressed. When we are suffering from mental health issues, our thoughts can become circular and the awareness of language that poetry brings can firstly interrupt and distract our thought process and, secondly, free us from the rigidity of the language that we might be using to think about ourselves. In both ways, poetry introduces freedom.
Co-founder of ReLit, Sir Jonathan Bate, welcomed us by explaining the scope of the project. Taking its cue in part from the wide reach achieved by Poems on the Underground, ReLit is aiming to raise enough money to distribute the anthology to schools, prisons and doctors' surgeries around the country. The charity also wishes to extend the use of bibliotherapy (the use of reading as a treatment) more widely and is conducting research on its efficacy in clinical environments.
The charity's Chief Executive, Paula Byrne, then gave a very moving speech on the origins of the project and the support she has received setting it up. Ten years ago, a severe family illness meant that Paula spent many hours in the waiting rooms of NHS doctors and hospitals. Confronted again and again by piles of glossy magazines, Paula finally realised that whilst these magazines offer excellent escapism of one kind, eventually the relief they brought palled and that there was no reading material that was at once both comforting and helped with the patient's own emotions. With the help of Harper Collins, Paula has now moved one step closer to being able to offer that.
The launch was attended by a representatives from the worlds of poetry, business, academia and medicine - this last including Professor Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford and co-developer of Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for the treatment of major depression. Of the many celebrities that have endorsed the charity, Sir Ian McKellen and Simon Callow were able to be present in person.
We are grateful to Paula and Jonathan for the invitation, and for the acknowledged to the small part Agile Collective had played in getting the charity up and running and we would encourage you to consider supporting ReLit or sharing your experiences of reading and mental health.