Volunteering with The Reader Organisation: Jennifer and Ginette’s Story

The Reader Organisation’s volunteering projects in Barnet are growing, with two new projects to spread shared reading across the area. Reading for the Brain will recruit and train volunteer facilitators to read with people living with dementia and their carers, and Altogether Better is a community project which aims to bring generations together through shared reading.

Shared reading has already been having an effect throughout Barnet, bringing communities and families closer together and igniting a deeper love of literature. Volunteer facilitator Jennifer shares her story of getting involved with the Barnet project, with her nan Ginette discovering shared reading too:

‘Make friends with a book: Get Into Reading groups give you a place to relax, a chance to make new friends and a new way to share reading with others every week. You can drop in and sit down, there’s no pressure to talk, read or even drink tea.”

The invitation sits pinned by the kitchen radio and has been there since September 2011.

I live with my grandmother. She is in her late seventies, she doesn’t like groups or socialising and at the time was suffering from depression. I suggested she went along to the reading group with a hope that she might actually enjoy it. For the few weeks leading up to the group I would occasionally bring it up.

‘So, Nanny, what do you think?’ I said, picking up the invitation. ‘It’s just around the corner.’ ‘You like reading.’ ‘It will be good for you to get out of the house.’ ‘You like tea.’ ‘I bet everyone who looked at the invitation twice is thinking the same as you.’ ‘You don’t even have to stay! Look, it says on the invitation ‘no pressure.’

‘I’ll see how I feel,’ she would say.

I came home one evening to find a two poems and a short story on the kitchen table.

‘I went to the book club today.’

I asked how it was.

‘Actually I quite enjoyed it. It was quite a surprise. I didn’t feel uncomfortable. Maybe because we were all new but I am amazed at what people are prepared to share about themselves.’

I would come home from work on a Monday and read the copies of the poems and short stories from her group and we would talk about them. She would tell me what others had said and I would read and see if I agreed or if I thought it meant something else. It could go on all evening. This happened for months. I even went along to the group on a few of my days off and I was surprised at how much I wanted to share my opinion about the literature. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

I got a new job with Jewish Care as an Activity Organiser in a residential care home. I thought it would be nice to have a reading group at Clore Manor, the home I was working at. I had been to a few of Nanny’s groups by then and it was simple; read and discuss.

I took one of Nanny’s poems from the reading group and made copies. I rounded up my most verbal residents and for a tremendously struggling 15 minutes, I tried to re-create the groups I had been to. It was so difficult I gave up and never tried again.

In July 2013 I was introduced to Paul Higgins to discuss the prospect of establishing a reading group at Clore Manor. I told him about my terrible tale and we realised that Paul was the man responsible for establishing Nanny’s reading group. I was chosen to attend the three days Read to Lead training to be able to become a shared reading facilitator. The training was brilliant. I realised there was so much more to becoming a facilitator than I had ever imagined. It wasn’t just ‘read and discuss’ at all.

The training was professional and insightful and I have now been co-facilitating a reading group for residents with dementia at Clore Manor since October 2013 along with Liz Kon who was the volunteer facilitator at my nan’s group previously.

I look forward to the group every Wednesday and sharing the role and having someone always on hand to offer guidance and support is invaluable. The residents always say they have enjoyed it and I am pleased to say the group is going from strength to strength. Paul is also always contactable and the monthly facilitators meetings are really helpful.

I think the best thing about becoming a shared reading facilitator is mastering the skill of asking the right questions. And also how to cut people off graciously during mid-conversation. I rarely have to use it in the group but it comes in handy in other places.

Ginette, Jennifer’s grandmother:

I attend the group at Cheshire Hall on Mondays, 1.30-3.30pm. When we read sections of a book or read a poem it is fascinating how different each of us is in the group feels about what we have read. There are usually five or six of us ranging in ages from late twenties through to pensioners.

Over time we have overcome retinence to express our opinions and share our feelings and experiences. It is amazing how a few words can evoke memories, some sad, some happy. As we all get along well despite our differences it is not difficult to share our thoughts.

Monday is a day with a difference. For a short time we can relax and think of other than the normal day to day occurances, talk freely, enjoy the company of people with similar interests and have a cup of tea provided cheerfully by the facilitators. Finding it easy to express my feelings at the book club has given me the confidence to do so in other settings. And I find by doing so, other people are more willing to do so.

We are looking to recruit volunteers for both of our expanded Barnet volunteering projects. For more information on the opportunities, contact Paul Higgins on  paulhiggins@thereader.org.uk or call 07985 718744. You can also see our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/barnet

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