With changes afoot for Shared Reading Knowsley, Helen has all the latest from the project:
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
From February 2015 until February 2017, The Reader coordinated Shared Reading Knowsley, a project commissioned by Knowsley Council to increase literacy, prospects and well-being across the borough.
Set up as part of the government’s No Health Without Mental Health strategy, the project has established over 20 weekly community led Shared Reading sessions taking place across Knowsley in care homes, libraries, recovery settings, schools and community centres.
Over the two year period Shared Reading Knowsley recruited 34 volunteers, engaged 23 young families in our Stories for You & Yours programme, trained partner staff from a range of local organisations, helped teens get into reading at The Prince’s Trust, hosted evenings reads at Liverpool Central Library for Knowsley Youth Mutual Kirkby, invited over 50 school children visit The Storybarn and ran two booked-based summer schools – all of which has gone towards building a picture of what it really means to be ‘a reader’ across the borough.
“I was quite apprehensive and my confidence was quite low. At first I thought “I can’t do this, I’m thick, I’m not intelligent enough” but as the weeks have gone by and we’re looking at the paragraph or the poem I’m amazing myself by my interpretations and my perceptions – I didn’t think I had that.”
Michelle, Knowsley Reader
All this has been made possible by the support of our volunteers, without whose time, energy and care we simply could not reach the number of people we do each week. One local volunteer has even begun to offer guitar lessons at the local sheltered accommodation venue and local recovery setting he reads in each week.
When the project reached it’s end earlier this year, our team of Knowsley volunteers joined The Reader’s Membership Scheme, a service which has been set up to offer a range of support, enabling volunteers to continue their incredible work in the area after the funded support ends.
“It is fantastic to able to stay connected with our Readers in Knowsley. Through this Membership Scheme we are able to provide an expanding range of resources for Volunteer Reader Leaders, including short stories and poems to read with their group each month, regular newsletters and a continuous channel of support from some of The Reader’s most experienced staff.
Our monthly newsletter has information on what we’re reading and any wider goings on that our Readers might want to get involved in. We’ve already had the opportunity to meet some of our new Members through events and it’s been such a pleasure. We’re looking forward to connecting with more of our Members both in Knowsley, and across the country.”
Ben Davis, Head of Membership at The Reader
The Reader has been bowled over by the generosity of our volunteers, but also by how much our group members give of themselves each week. They have represented The Reader at events, spread the word at bus stops and supermarkets, cooked each other Scouse and shared their stories to help others understand that reading might just be for everyone.
One such story came from Irene, who brings her 95 year old mum along to a group for people living with dementia and their carers at her local library, where they enjoy homemade scones from their volunteer Reader Leader and a good book each week:
“The reading group is the one place that mum is happy to go to. She’s reluctant to visit day centres because she doesn’t feel she fits into the behaviours that she’s seeing; and the activities that are happening there are things she’s not ever been interested in – you know, bingo and such like.
But reading feels normal, it feels like old behaviour – there’s nothing distinctive or patronising or created especially for somebody with cognitive issues or anything – this is something she could have been doing in the past. I’m not sure my mum even knows it’s a dementia-specific group.
Those issues are not part of what goes on there – it’s about the material in the stories and what other people think; what connects to their own life stories. We’re all reading the same material but finding different things in it, and it’s that sharing process which everybody enjoys.
Group members, volunteers and friends got together earlier this year to celebrate everything that has been achieved so far and usher in the beginning of this community-led model.