Melanie is a volunteer Reader Leader for The Reader’s North Wales project, supported by the National Lottery Community Fund, which finds volunteers across the three counties of Gwynedd, Conwy and Anglesey to read with people one-to-one or in small groups.
It is designed to increase confidence and personal wellbeing while reducing loneliness and isolation. Here, Melanie tells us in her own words the effect Shared Reading has had on her since joining. Our thanks to Melanie for everything she has given to Shared Reading.
“It was my manager who first told me about The Reader. She knows I’m an avid reader, so when she told me about the Read to Lead training, it intrigued me.
“Books are my happy places, comfort blankets, life rafts, and I often struggle with feelings of alienation, detachment and poor mental health. I’m susceptible to bouts of ‘stuckness’, but I know they are best treated by creative stimuli and new experiences like this.
“Still though, I was nervous about trying something different and meeting new people. When I came to the training, I was really nervous. I was worried I might not have the appropriate ‘human’ skills to do it.
“We started the day with a Shared Reading group. The course leader read a poem called Hercules by Simon Armitage – and hearing it aloud, it seemed to come to life somehow and I started noticing things that I hadn’t seen before.
“Shared Reading gets to the essence of something. It helped me understand there’s literature out there that makes you feel OK with being a bit different.
“When we were asked if anyone would like to read aloud, I felt self-conscious, but the course leader was encouraging, so I volunteered. Something ‘clicked’ in my head and I thought ‘this is something I could be good at’.
“I was surprised by how good I felt when I finished the training. A sense of achievement, the potential for better things ahead. The internal critic that I’d entered the room with seemed quieter.
“I’ve read with a variety of people one-to-one since completing Read to Lead, including hospital patients living with dementia, some bookish, some indifferent. But Shared Reading has a transformative effect on them and myself.
“It creates an almost palpable feeling of serenity, which transcends the busy ward and stimulates reflections on life in all its complexity.
“The people I’ve read with in hospital have said I’m coming out of my shell and I’m amazed how different I can be. It’s good for them to see they’ve helped me, too.
“Before, I used to read to immerse myself in this peaceful place – a whole other world away from our reality – which is a world full of traffic and noise and unpredictable people.
“I used it to isolate myself and escape but reading with other people builds a bridge between the two for me; it’s in the world but not of this world. I think Shared Reading brings out the best in me. I’ve finally found something where I feel I can be myself.
“As a gay woman with Asperger’s Syndrome in North Wales, it’s difficult to find others who share my life experiences. I always wanted to help others and Shared Reading enables me to do this, in a quiet, but valuable way.
“One of the first times I read aloud as an adult was during a stay in hospital. I’d joined a reading group and we were asked to bring a poem. I read Emily Dickinson’s Hope is the Thing with Feathers. It’s about how hope is fragile – but it can survive all weather.
“It had so much resonance when I read it aloud, that I stuck it up on my bedroom at home. That poem lives in me now, like an internal monologue. I hope to share that poem with someone who needs it, some day.”