Belfast organiser launches first Shared Reading Space outside England – in a place designed for building a ‘peaceful, tolerant and inclusive society’

Marnie Kennedy tells us about the launch of a new Shared Reading Space in Belfast at the Duncairn Centre

Volunteers at the Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts, a former Presbyterian church “once derelict and now breathtakingly repurposed as an arts space for all” are celebrating the launch of a new Shared Reading Space.

On 3 June, 40 people came together for the grand opening, including Reader Leaders, Shared Reading group members, friends of The Reader, librarians and a team of local family support workers.

“The Duncairn has been home to a Shared Reading project since it opened in 2014, where they started with only three readers,” explains Marnie. “It is now a busy hub supporting 13 regular Shared Reading groups with people of all ages.

“The Shared Reading space is a beautiful and welcoming environment, with great reading materials for Reader Leaders and anyone that’s curious about Shared Reading. Everyone that wants to read for pleasure is welcome to spend time here.

The event was followed by two simultaneous Shared Reading sessions, which 23 people took part in, and for many it was the first time they had read aloud with others.

“We are very grateful to Bill Shaw, director of the 174 Trust that runs the Duncairn Centre, for giving such a beautiful home to Shared Reading and for hosting the lunch to thank volunteers.

“The staff have created an amazing and much-valued community and arts space, and support our Shared Reading work in very many practical ways.”

Marnie is celebrating a “whole year of amazing growth” since The Reader trained 14 new Reader Leaders in Belfast last June.

“We read in care homes, in a mental health support group, in primary and secondary schools, and in a support group for adults with physical disabilities,” she explains.

“We also now have four weekly drop-in groups, three in The Duncairn and another in Belfast Central Library. And we have a weekly Story Time for Little Ones for babies and toddlers and their parents and grandparents.

“The Duncairn, which houses the space, is a former Presbyterian church once derelict and now breathtakingly repurposed as an arts space for all,” she adds. “It is located in the New Lodge area of north Belfast, a resilient community that continues to live with the effects of the conflict here.”

The Shared Reading Space at the Duncairn

At the launch, people took time to tell Marnie how they feel about Shared Reading:

“It means being part of a community… it is a peaceful place to reflect.”

“I love the interacting with all the people. It builds confidence in me… it keeps my brain working well.”

“Utterly enjoyable, soul searching, very beautiful.”

“Sharing an experience. It slows you down and reminds you to listen.”

“It’s a chance to share and savour the delights of the short story, and an opportunity to connect in a meaningful way with others.”

“It’s community building through literature.”

“It’s educational and social. I get to read great novels and poets. I never got the opportunity to read these books before I came to Shared Reading.”

To find out how you can get involved with the Reading Revolution in Belfast email info@thereader.org.uk.

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