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Birmingham rough sleepers share in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

April 15 2011
World Book Night and Turning Point give out Spark‘s classic

Placing her faith in the power of the written word, Laura James, an outreach worker at Turning Point Birmingham Drugline, applied to World Book Night for some of the million books that have been given to the public by publishers across the UK and Ireland.

Laura received 48 copies of the Muriel Spark classic The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She earmarked them for the rough sleepers her outreach team supports in accessing drug treatment, housing and health services.

Laura told The Pavement how she got involved with the big book giveaway: "In October last year, I heard about World Book Night, a national event which distributes a million books, completely free. So I applied, explained the kind of work I do and why I would like some books to give to my clients. I made it clear that it would not form part of a treatment plan but was something altruistic, that it was for people who may not have access to books. I also made the point that I work full-time and I can’t afford to buy books any more."

Many of Turning Point’s clients have a range of complex problems such as drug and alcohol misuse, mental health issues, unemployment and learning disabilities. How did Laura convince them of the virtues of a good book? "A good way to engage with clients is to talk about something unrelated to their treatment," says Laura. "One client of mine is a very quiet person. I gave him a copy of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and he was thrilled. He really loves to read but can’t afford to by books and can’t use his local library because he does not have a fixed address. One of the central ideas of World Book Night (which took place across the UK on Saturday 5 March) is that once you've read a book, you can pass it on to someone else or keep it, as it’s yours."

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was one of a powerhouse literary list compiled by the organisers of World Book Night: it included the likes of All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque; Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin; and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John le Carré. But for Laura, there was no contest: "Muriel Spark’s book is one of my favourites and is unlike anything I have read before. I’ve said to clients that I will read it again so that we are all on the same page, so to speak. It’s not a long novel, but some of the themes are complex, and I really hope it will provoke discussion amongst our clients and perhaps lead to a reading group they can take ownership of."

Rewarding and inspiring, Laura’s experience with World Book Night has accurately reflected the holistic ethos purveyed by Turning Point. "We want to work with people in the best way possible and support them however we can," states Laura firmly. "Of course we are here to provide treatment, but we are also innovative, we want to be a wraparound inclusive service. Turning Point is a very progressive organisation and they have been very supportive of this endeavour, as have the Arts Officers at Birmingham City Council. I believe that reading is an enriching experience and really does change people’s lives."

Turning Point is the UK’s leading health and social care organisation. Turning Point Birmingham Drugline can be contacted at Dale House New Meeting Street, Birmingham, B4 7SX or by telephoning 0121 632 6363.