Shared Reading for Healthy Communities: A Day to Remember

Conference Crowd 72dpiAfter months of preparation and anticipation, The Reader Organisation’s fourth annual National Conference ‘Shared Reading for Healthy Communities’ took place yesterday at the British Library Conference Centre in London. It was a big day by all accounts – we welcomed our largest number of delegates for a packed schedule with plenty of big ideas about shared reading, health, communities and a wellbeing approach for the ‘whole person’.

The day started with the very heart of shared reading, with an extract from Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey by Jane Davis and some incredibly inspiring testimonials from Get Into Reading group members Jane, Jon and Denise, who had very different but equally powerful stories of the effect their groups have had on their lives.

“For me, it was the start of my road to recovery…it has rebuilt my life”

Our first plenary session of the day provoked much discussion about how we can find A New Language for Mental Health – through literature, or otherwise. Alan Yates, Professor Louis Appleby and Dirk Terryn spoke about how language and literature can be used to talk about mental health and how exploration of both can benefit the individual and society.

Jane and Andy 2 72dpiAfter a varied morning programme  Healthy People seminars, touching upon mental health, public health, chronic pain and dementia, it was time to welcome Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham MP, who discussed how reading English at university and literature has shaped his life and career. Andy spoke animatedly about his recent visit to a Get Into Reading group in Wigan, his belief that libraries and culture are vital for providing a social model of support  and shared the literature that means the most to him, including the poetry of Tony Harrison – sharing some reading aloud by reading the poem Bookends.

Feeling suitably inspired, there was little time to stop as we headed into our afternoon session, Connected Communities. Professors Phil Davis and Rhiannon Corcoran got our brains electrified with fascinating talk about the connections between literature and neuro-science and our afternoon seminars kept the thinking going at full steam, with a vibrant evaluation amongst participants of our Reading in Secure Environments (RISE) project, and a seminar on shared reading and recovery, in libraries and for young people.

There was lots to consider about the current, ongoing impact of shared reading – but that didn’t stop us from finishing the day by looking to the future, and considering where precisely the model could be in ten years time. Nationally and internationally renowned? Taken out into the realm of technology? Translated into hundreds of languages? Lots of exciting things to consider against the backdrop of The International Centre for Reading and Wellbeing at Calderstones.

And the conversation wasn’t just within the walls of the British Library Conference Centre – it was great to see so much buzz throughout the day on Twitter, using the hashtag #TROConf:

“Incredible stories – tear jerkers and goosebumps – at @thereaderorg conference today”

“Stimulating conference hosted by @thereaderorg about the power of shared reading & mental health/well being. So many stories”

“Amazing presentation on ‘Literature and Neuro-science,’ investigating language and brain stimulation at #TROConf @thereaderorg

“Inspiring stories about reading making people’s lives better- best conference I’ve been to for ages.Thanks @thereaderorg

What a day indeed. Here’s to the future and all its many possibilities for shared reading…

Make sure you keep an eye on The Reader Online in the coming weeks for more insight from Shared Reading for Healthy Communities – and keep your thoughts coming on Twitter too: #TROConf