Read to Lead: Three Christmas Challenge Volunteers start their Reader Journeys

As we countdown to the launch of The Reader’s Big Give Christmas Challenge, we’ve been catching up with three of the volunteers trained as a result of last year’s successful, award-winning campaign.

If you cast your mind back to Giving Tuesday 2016, you might recall the launch of our three-day fundraising campaign as part of The Big Give Christmas Challenge. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of our supporters who, along with our Big Give Pledgers The Pilgrim Trust, and Champions Postcode Support Trust, raised over £50,000 to support our work with socially isolated older people.

Since then, we’ve been recruiting new volunteer Reader Leaders and providing support and ongoing training for existing volunteers so they can continue reading with older people at risk of loneliness.

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters during last year’s Christmas Challenge, 75 volunteers, new and old, have been going out to care homes, libraries, doctors surgeries and community centres to read in groups or one-to-one with older people.

Ten new Volunteer Reader Leaders at their first training session at Calderstones, their programme of learning and support has been fully-funded by Big Give Christmas Challenge donations, August 2017

All this month we’ve been celebrating the incredible work of our volunteers and inviting you to get involved. So to give you some more insight into what it takes to become a Reader Leader Volunteer, and how rewarding an experience it can be, three new Volunteers, trained through a Christmas Challenge funded programme, tell us what their Reader journeys have been like so far.

Zena, Kent

I live by the sea in Folkestone in Kent, with my Autistic brother and my dog Basil. I have a chronic illness and 18 months ago, I made the decision to leave my job, take some time out to manage my symptoms and to create a better lifestyle for myself.

Whilst recuperating I rediscovered my passion for reading. As a child I loved getting lost in the stories of Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie. I’ve carried that love of reading with me into adulthood and although at times I’ve lost touch with it due to illness and lack of concentration, I’ve always returned to the wonderful embrace of books.

Some books really speak to me, connect with my situation and help me through difficult times and others are great for escapism – like Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris, a brilliantly compelling read which was impossible to put down. I also really connected with Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls as I experienced a lot of grief as a child and wish I’d had this book to read then.

“I found it so powerful that I was still able to connect with those feelings of grief – it felt very cathartic. This was part of my motivation to set up my own project to help others.”

Read Zena’s story in full.


Vicky, Cumbria

After 20 years as a university English Literature teachers I gave it up for several reasons… stress, motherhood, frustration at the politics, the lessening focus on teaching, and because we live ina remote part of rural Cumbria.

I love words. I write, I read and teach creative writing workshops. I also have three kids under the age of 16 so don’t have an awful lot of spare time but a friend, Kate, was setting up the Kirkby Stephen Community Arts and I got involved as a volunteer. We bring professional theatre, films, workshops, reading and talks to the local community and the first year has been a huge success. I knew about The Reader and was really interested in volunteering but there weren’t many opportunities in Cumbria. I was Kate who told me about the Big Give funded programme to create Shared Reading groups for older people. I thought about the three care homes in my town, my own parents have passed away so my family has little contact with older people. I recognised that I didn’t have much experience working with older people, but it sounded like such an interesting opportunity and I felt like I wanted to do it.

Read Vicky’s Story in full.


Louise, Oswestry

My favourite word is ‘joy’ or ‘joyful’ – it sums up how I want to live my life, to find joy in simple things and after 58 years of trying I think I’m doing a pretty good job of it now. But it did take 25 years of clinical depression and several traumatic events, including the loss of a sibling, an abusive relationship and a long spell in a psychiatric unit to get there.

I was extremely lucky to have an amazing childhood, spells of living abroad, seeing and experiencing many different things, I have always had the support of fantastic friends and family – not everyone has been that lucky. Throughout that journey there’s been one constant- books.

I was that child who read under the covers at night with a torch and went to the library every week, The Secret Garden was my favourite. As a teenager I felt so sophisticated reading Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse, how grown up reading French novels! Now my favourite book is The Man with the Dancing Eyes by Sophie Dahl – not a literary heavyweight but it’s constantly by my bed and I reread it several times a year. It’s a cross between poetry and prose, and it’s illustrated – a feast for all the the senses and it’s perfect whether I am happy or sad or thoughtful or frivolous.

I work in a small town library and I’m lucky enough to see the difference literature can make to peoples’ lives on a daily basis. I know three ladies who’ve undergone Read to Lead training in the past and I attended a Shared Reading group they’d started up locally. I could see how special and powerful these sessions were – when the opportunity to take the training came up this year I was thrilled. I’ve been volunteering with an Age UK lunch club and WRVS Stroke Club and I knew Shared Reading could be so beneficial for them. My mum had dementia and I used literature as a way to engage and communicate with her, when she went into a care home I visited regularly and would lead a ‘story time’ session with the residents.

Read Louise’s Story in full.


The Reader’s Big Give Christmas Challenge 2017

From Tuesday 28 November until Tuesday 5 December, every pound you donate will be doubled. You can help us bring the joy of Shared Reading to even more isolated older people across the UK. Find out more about our Christmas Challengeor if you’d like to become a volunteer, you can find information about our current opportunities here.

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