The Reading Revolution in Northern Ireland

We’ll be taking Read To Lead to Northern Ireland very soon, as part of a new schedule of Open Courses for 2012 (if you’re in Northern Ireland and are interested in training to become a shared reading facilitator, read on…) but The Reader Organisation already has a growing presence in the country, with very successful Get Into Reading groups operating in Queen’s University and within the Criminal Justice system.

Our Northern Ireland project worker Patricia Canning fills us in the ongoing progress of Get Into Reading Northern Ireland, highlighting the powerful impact words and literature have amongst a wide range of people:

Every Wednesday afternoon I read with a group of women who tell me that being a part of this Get Into Reading group makes them feel relaxed, ‘chilled’, less stressed, and on the whole, liberated. The irony is, that this GIR group is in Hydebank Prison, Belfast. Reading an extract from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol a few weeks back, the women talked about how his depiction of the biting cold had made them all feel very chilly: ‘he really knows how to describes things, doesn’t he? I’m freezing here!’

Being able to ‘feel’ what the writer is describing – even if it is the cold – is a testament to the power of words, and of the benefits of reading good literature. These women, like everyone else who benefits from attending Get Into Reading groups across the mainland, enjoy that liberating feeling of being able to identify with other characters, with events and with feelings and emotions that they might otherwise struggle to understand, articulate, or even acknowledge. Words can do that – as Ferdinand Pessoa puts it:

To express something is to conserve its virtue and take away its terror. Fields are greener in their description than in their actual greenness. Flowers, if described with phrases that define them in the air of the imagination, will have colours with a durability not found in cellular life.

Reading a difficult Shakespearean sonnet recently, one of the women read the line, ‘I all alone beweep my outcast state’, and proclaimed, ‘it’s about depression, isn’t it?’ In our group, Shakespeare has helped us understand that depression is a timeless phenomenon and can chance upon the best of us.

Thankfully, these benefits are reaching further afield because people are attending to the positive effects of shared reading here, as Health In Mind’s recent poetry and prose event at Coleraine library so wonderfully demonstrated. We now have a fantastic Get Into Reading group in Queen’s University, Belfast, every Thursday afternoon, which is well attended by a spirited bunch of people who read, chat, drink tea, chat, read, and marvel at the ways in which reading together enriches both the reading experience and our day in equal measure.

The Reading Revolution has begun in Northern Ireland, but we need passionate people who believe in the power of reading to help take it even further. We are hosting an open Read To Lead training course at Holywood Library over three weeks: Friday 3rd, 10th and 17th February 2012. If you want to share the joys of shared reading in your community, there are a few places left on the course. For further details and to book your place, please contact Jessica Reeves for more information: jessicareeves@thereader.org.uk

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