Volunteers’ Week: Declan’s Reader Story

Today’s Reader Story comes from one of our Big Lottery Merseyside Volunteers who found the skills gained through volunteering also paid off in his professional role at GlaxoSmithKline.

Declan became a Reader volunteer in 2014, reading one-to-one with an elderly lady living with Alzheimers. Here is his story:


“ Reading aloud with someone is such a simple thing but it means so much.”

For years I’d been wanting to volunteer, but trying to fit something around work was really hard – I can only give two hours at the weekend. The Reader came up as a match for me and, in 2014 I attended a six-session training course.

The course (Read to Lead) was really well run. To be honest, because it was a charity, I had expected something less professional, but it was excellent – I can’t speak too highly of it.

“Almost immediately, I started using the skills I was taught on the course, in my work environment. I hadn’t expected to get that from a training course about literature and stories – but I found it was the same skills.”

Before joining The Reader’s course, I didn’t see the power of silence at all! I do a lot of presentations and I feed information up to senior management and I realised that basically, I was just bombarding them. I learned very quickly through the training I got, that I needed to talk far less, to pause after every statement that I’d made, wait to see if there’s feedback and allow what I’d said to sink in. 

“I started seeing people respond to me differently at work – it was remarkable really and it was almost instantaneous.”

It gave me more confidence because I knew that whatever I was saying was getting in, if you like, to their brains -which is what it’s all about.

At Glaxo our management training courses tell how to use various media,
but I don’t think presentation skills – how to use silence, how to pause –
is done particularly well in industry.
The Reader teach you how to listen and watch better – which is vital in
meetings. It’s about learning to read people, as well as literature.

“I’m gaining skills, but I get to give something back too.”

The volunteering I do is reading with an elderly lady, one-to-one, every Sunday afternoon. She is highly intelligent and academic but with the onset of her Alzheimer’s, she had lost a lot of interest in reading – she’d lost interest in life really.

We go through the poems and talk about them – she reads them over
and over, whispering them to herself and smiling and that’s fantastic. She
has started reading the newspaper again – her next door neighbour told
me recently; he was absolutely bowled over by the changes that he could see in her.

“I love the rapport that I’ve now got with her, and it’s great to feel that I am enriching her life a little bit, for an hour each week I’m giving her more of a reason to be alive and be around.”

There’s a satisfaction there. I’ve worked such a long time in industry now, I’m no longer a doer – I direct what other people do. So to actually deliver something that’s of real value at the coal-face, if you like, is great for me.

Reading aloud with someone is such a simple thing but it means so much – it helps people re-engage and be interested again in things around them.

It’s such a worthwhile activity and The Reader is a wonderful charity and the difference it seems to make is remarkable to me.


Get involved and become part of the story…

Have you been inspired by Volunteers’ Week? If you’d like to get involved by volunteering with The Reader, find out more on our Volunteering opportunities, or if you’re based in the North West, why not come along to one of our Shared Reading Information Workshops to connect with the team.

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