As the Make Friends With a Book project signs off, we celebrate the hard work of the wonderful staff who made it possible and the volunteers who’ll continue to keep Shared Reading alive in North Wales.
It’s been three years since Big Lottery Wales project Make Friends With a Book took it’s first tentative steps in North Wales, becoming The Reader’s most ambitious and geographically challenging project to date by aiming to bring Shared Reading to communities over six counties.
Since then the project has reached almost 800 people through 36 Shared Reading groups (30% of which were either in Welsh or bilingual), from schools and colleges to open community library groups, mental health drop-in centres to care-homes, hostels and secure units. Our wonderful Reader Leaders in North Wales have brought Shared Reading to people of every age and walk of life, training just under 60 volunteers in the process.
The success of the Make Friends With a Book project is down to the tireless hard work of those staff and volunteers (some of whom made regular 16 mile journeys to their Shared Reading groups!) who brought Shared Reading to the most far flung corners and the dizziest heights of North Wales – quite literally.
In September last year a group of Reader staff, volunteers and group members defied the elements to bring Shared Reading to new heights of 1,085m when they ascended Mount Snowdon. The group set new records for the highest Shared Reading session, reciting Y Grib Goch by T Rowland Hughes, and the English translation, Crib Goch by Catherine Fisher, at the summit.
The Reader welcomed volunteers from the Big Lottery Wales project to the first ever Volunteer Think Day earlier this year, bringing together members of our volunteer team from across the UK to read, share experiences of delivering Shared Reading in their communities and contributing to the wider discussion about what an important role volunteers have to play in our work.
The passion and commitment of these volunteers was also celebrated with the publication of our latest anthology, Poets Don’t Lie, which features poems recommended by volunteers from across the organisation. Volunteers from the Make Friends With a Book project contributed verses from Seamus Heaney, Charles Bukowski and Jenny Joseph, Poets Don’t Lie is available for purchase here.
And it is thanks to the passion and commitment of those volunteers that now, at the project’s end, Shared Reading groups will continue to run across North Wales. There are 17 Shared Reading groups continuing in North Wales, 12 of which are open community groups – if you’re interested in finding out more you can see full details of these groups on our website.
On behalf of everyone here at The Reader we’d like to extend a huge thank you to all the group members, staff and our wonderful Reader Leaders Jeanette, Daisy and Leah who made the Make Friends With a Book project such a success.
The Party in Portmeirion – Ben Davis, Head of Membership
I’m always glad to find myself agreeing with TS Eliot. To make an end is indeed to start.
At the Big Lottery celebration in Portmeirion I was struck by how this was an end to our North Wales project, but how much it felt like a start, a new phase for the 17 Shared Reading groups that will be continuing after the official project finishes.
With a bit of support via an exciting pilot (which we hope to tell you more about very soon!) there will still be Shared Reading in North Wales thanks to the passion and efforts of our volunteers.
About 18 months ago I attended a training event for the Big Lottery project in North Wales and I was so struck by the passion and care that these people had that I knew I was looking at the future of the project. We didn’t know what form it would take but I knew that whatever it was, these people would be at the heart of it.
I truly believe that what is happening in North Wales now is the beginning of a new phase of Shared Reading, where it will grow and take hold of communities more than ever before.
Recently, my role has taken me to three end of project celebration events. These events are always sad things, coming to the end of something that people have worked so hard at, but they really are celebrations, they are forward looking.
In a strange way these events can be useful for me, partly for learning about how we implement our work in different areas, with different people, but also, witnessing the sorrow that always accompanies these endings, it makes me work harder to ensure more new beginnings, to build a more sustainable model, to create better support networks.
This event was especially striking because we were joined by group members, volunteers and Reader Leaders, because it was bilingual, because of the massive geographical span from which those people had come (approximately 4000 square miles!). And yet despite all the differences between people, there was a feeling of what I knew and recognised to be the spirit of what we do – of what The Reader is.
The room was full of people that knew what Shared Reading meant to them and to each other. Separately, in some cases very separately, they had all experienced the same thing and they cared about it, enough to have travelled quite some distance to be here and celebrate it together. It is the essence of Shared Reading, and the thing about it that always moves me when I realise it anew: too often as readers we are alone with a book, but here we found that actually we were all connected by the same story, it had brought us all together.
Going forward, I’m currently organising a day of reading together for our Reader Leaders in North Wales – Reader Leaders, the details will be winging their way to you very soon!
It has been sad to see the end of the Big Lottery Project in North Wales, but exciting new beginnings lie ahead.