Great Shared Reading doesn’t need much in the way of surroundings: some people in a space, with chairs to sit on, a story or a poem to read. But over the last 12 months, some of our volunteers at The Reader have had the opportunity to run Shared Reading groups in the beautiful surroundings of Kensington Palace in London.
With Liverpool Literary Festival soon approaching, our Intern Lauren thought she’d get herself into the bibliophile festive spirit and take her first ever trip to Liverpool Central Library… and what a lovely morning it truly was.
‘Well I just love coming. It’s something to look forward to. It makes you think…when I’m here I don’t think of anything else.’ – shared reading group member in Melton Mowbray Library, Leicestershire
Each week our Shared Reading groups are taking place in libraries across the UK, connecting people of all ages and backgrounds with literature and one another. From groups improving health and wellbeing in West London to groups that help stimulate memories and reconnect older people with those closest to them in Wiltshire and the South West, shared reading in library settings is creating a variety of positive impacts for individuals and within local communities.
Researching Reading Groups
Are you a facilitator or a member of a Shared Reading group? A small collective of experienced researchers with backgrounds in education and lifelong learning are currently exploring the part that libraries play in supporting reading groups, including shared reading groups, in the community and in promoting reading for pleasure. Their research will document what is currently happening and highlight best practice in this important area of libraries’ work.
To help, they want to find out more about why people join Shared Reading groups and why they keep coming. If you have a story about your experience of Shared Reading in libraries, please do get in touch.
For more information, please contact Lesley Dee: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are some examples of what’s happening around the country
During shared reading sessions, people may identify with the experiences revealed by characters in literature and find a way of linking it to their own lives – perhaps subconsciously. Over time, and with the help of the support of others in the group and the texts that are read, they may feel confident enough to find their voice on difficult subjects and discover different perspectives within themselves. A is one of our regular group members at Seacombe Library, Wirral:
“A, who attends the group each week, is a keen reader and it’s always a pleasure to share a story with him. Recently we read an extract from Dickens’s Great Expectations that introduces the reader to Miss Havisham and her self-imposed seclusion at Satis House. I asked A what he made of Miss Havisham and why he thought she lived her life in that way. ‘She could be scared’, was his response. I agreed with him and asked why he thought that was the case. ‘Because she’s stuck in the past; she still wears the same clothes and doesn’t want to move on’.
I asked A to imagine he were Pip and standing before Miss Havisham. ‘What advice would you give her?’ I asked. ‘To move forward slowly’. I thought this was a really insightful comment, and perhaps one that mirrors A’s own experience. We ended the group with A asking if he could keep his copy of the extract so he could read it again in his own time. It was with this request that I realised how much the group had meant to him.”
It’s not only our readers who are benefitting from sharing stories in their local library, but also volunteers – over in Leicestershire, our project with Leicestershire Libraries is almost entirely run by volunteers, creating hundreds of reading experiences and lasting friendships across the county, including the weekly group in Oadby Library:
“What was the best thing for me was seeing, possibly for the first time, the real benefit of shared reading. B said she just listened with her eyes closed to me reading which she found very helpful. By the end of the session her colour had literally returned and she forgot herself and, helped by D’s personality and the literature, became animated and laughed. Equally S and D had apparently been reading poems to each other the previous day and D has joined a poetry appreciation group, inspired by reading poetry in our group.”
This week has seen an amazing milestone in the story of shared reading (so far), with one of our longest running group members celebrating a special anniversary.
Carol Munns was part of the very first shared reading group – a six-week pilot project at St James’ Library in Birkenhead, from which our hundreds of groups now operating across the UK on a weekly basis originated. After an initially reluctant start, Carol discovered a love of reading through the group, went onto obtain a GCSE in English and applied for a job at Bebington Central Library. Six months on from starting in the library, she decided to set up her own shared reading group for the community. In September 2007, the group at Bebington Central Library had its first session – and eight years on, it’s still going strong!
Each week, Carol reads with her regular members – there’s an average of 12-14 who come, and the group is proving so popular at the moment that there’s a waiting list of attendees. Most of the Bebington readers are older, living in sheltered accommodation or otherwise isolated from many social activities. Others have commitments of caring for their relatives and loved ones and don’t get much of a chance to have some time that is just their own, purely to unwind. In Carol’s words, “people come to switch off and relax with the love of a book”, and it is through this that lasting bonds and friendships have been formed. The accessible setting of the library – close by for group members – coupled with the opportunity to connect with others within the community makes the group something ‘unique’.
“The reading group saved me when my husband was sick”
“Everyone [in the group] has been kind to me when I lost my confidence” – shared reading group members, Bebington Central Library
There have been many highlights over the eight years the group has been running – a number of theatre trips have been embarked upon, showing how the group’s passion for literature goes beyond, and also participated in our Wirral Community Shakespeare project in 2008. Asking Carol about her own stand-out moments from the group’s history, she was quick to mention Mary, one of Bebington’s longest serving group members. Mary had led a full life, travelling across the world before returning to Wirral in her later years. Loneliness became an increasing problem for her before she began attending the group. Mary has since passed away, but Carol recalls how even with all the adventures she had experienced she called going to the group “the highlight of her life”.
The group celebrated their special anniversary by reading The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam as well as enjoying a spot of lunch and will soon be heading on an outing to the local cinema to watch a live theatre broadcast of The Importance of Being Earnest – another book they have read and enjoyed.
All of us at The Reader offer our biggest congratulations to Carol and the Bebington group – and here’s to many more years of shared reading together!
“It has been really exciting to watch something grow (like a seed) where it didn’t exist before, to watch it flourish and to be part of bringing that about is really exciting… I am always amazed at what we can learn through sharing our experiences with others.” – volunteer group leader
Since April 2014, shared reading has been taking place weekly in libraries across Leicestershire. The Reader Organisation partnered with Leicestershire County Council for the Leicestershire Libraries project, with volunteers being trained and supported to set up and run reading groups using our shared reading model. From one pilot group, seven groups now run across the area – all but one of which are led by our volunteers – and over 170 people in the area have experienced shared reading since the project began. We’re happy to say that feedback has been very positive, with benefits such as a deeper sense of relaxation and the forming of friendships emerging from the comments given by group members:
“I really have enjoyed beginning my week with this session. It’s a chance to catch up with the friends I’ve made and to lose myself in the depths of stories every week.”
“It has become a ‘must’ for my husband, he has memory problems, and looks forward to the group.”
“I need a goal to make me leave the house. I now look forward to Fridays.”
The success of the project simply wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of our volunteers, who give up their time week on week to offer the opportunity to take part in shared reading to new and returning members. Their commitment and enthusiasm has allowed bonds between those who read to flourish, and the experience of connecting with literature and the community has proved rewarding for them too. One of our volunteer group leaders shared their story of how they’re finding it so far:
“One of the first things which struck me about the groups is the ability of poems and short stories to open (or reopen) people’s minds to new thoughts. I believe there is something ‘childlike’ about all art – but literature, in particular, for me, is about allowing ourselves to play ‘let’s pretend’ and be carried along with the unfamiliar experiences/ideas which the author or poet is guiding us through. To do this in a group is extraordinary and seeing how different members respond is fascinating.”
The project has been recommissioned for 2015-16, enabling it to reach even newer heights – plans are underway to open two new groups in Loughborough and Market Harborough.
We’re currently recruiting for new volunteers to join the project and help run our shared reading groups across the area. Training will take place on Monday 7th, Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th September at Wigston Library, Leicester, with continued ongoing support from The Reader Organisation and the library service.
If you are interested in volunteering in Leicestershire or want to know more about the project, please contact Nicola Bennison, Leicestershire Libraries Project Coordinator: email@example.com
Take a look at our current list of open groups in Leicestershire – in Melton Mowbray, Coalville, Hinckley, Wigston, Blaby, Oadby and Glenfield – on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reading-with-us
A huge congratulations go to The Reader Organisation in the South West, who were winners at the Wiltshire Public Health Awards last night.
Our Wiltshire shared reading project, running in partnership with Wiltshire Libraries, picked up the prize for improved mental health and wellbeing across the area. Running since January 2014, Library Memory Groups bring the shared reading experience to people living with dementia and memory loss on a weekly basis. With poems and short stories that are read aloud, group members are immersed in a calm and relaxed atmosphere, with the texts being read and digested allowing people to piece together collective personal memories related to the stories and poems, which in turn encourages feelings of wellbeing.
Group members and their family members and carers have reported that the weekly sessions have a positive impact on their mood, allowing them to rediscover and enjoy literature with others and giving the opportunity to make new friends and connections within their community.
The project has also involved volunteers to assist in running the groups, allowing it to extend further across the region.
The Wiltshire Public Health Awards, run by Wiltshire Council, recognise individuals, projects and organisations for their contributions to improving the health and wellbeing of people who live and work in Wiltshire in nine different categories, including the mental health award. This year’s awards saw a staggering 120 nominees enter, so the achievement is something we’re especially proud of.
Jennifer McDerra, The Reader Organisation’s Development Manager for Public Health and Dementia, was at the ceremony in Trowbridge to pick up the award on behalf of the team. A special congratulations goes to Wiltshire Project Worker Josephine Corcoran who has done so much to get the project off the ground and maintained its success onto to award-winning status!
You can read more about the Wiltshire project, and the remarkable effects it has had on group members on Josephine’s blog:
A new Library Memory Group will be starting at Salisbury Library in Wiltshire on Thursdays, 11am-12pm, weekly from 23rd April. Other Library Memory Groups in the area currently run in Trowbridge, Warminster and Mere (Wednesdays) and Royal Wootton Bassett and Pewsey (Thursdays). For full details on the groups, visit our website or follow @TheReaderSW on Twitter:
The Reader Organisation in South West England have been running Library Memory Groups in Wiltshire in conjunction with Wiltshire Council and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group for nearly a year now, with the four groups across the region attracting regular members as well as offering volunteering opportunities to people who enjoy reading and have the spare time to assist in facilitating in the groups.
Our Library Memory Groups in Wiltshire currently run in Warminster and Mere Libraries on Wednesdays and Royal Wootton Bassett and Pewsey Libraries on Thursdays (full details on our website). Library Memory Groups are especially designed for people living with dementia and other memory loss conditions as well as their carers to connect through shared reading and in many cases rediscover literature and the many memories and experiences it recalls. The group leader – Josephine – reads the poetry or short stories aloud in each session, allowing the literature to come to life within the room and for the members, with discussions following on.
There’s been a vast range of great literature read at the groups since they began, with a recent WW1 poetry session focusing on In Flanders Fields by John McCrae amongst others:
“One woman liked the mention of larks singing, and said that birds didn’t take any notice of boundaries. She envied them their freedom. Another person thought the description of life, in the second stanza, included below, very beautiful and moving. “It’s so simple, but says everything,” she said, “these are the important things in life: to see dawn, see the sun set, to love and to be loved.” “
As with the rest of our volunteering projects around the UK, our volunteers in our Library Memory Groups are highly valued, helping us to bring shared reading experiences to more people as Assistant Group Facilitators.For a small amount of time each week – one and a half hours – you can make a difference to the lives of people with memory loss, absorb yourself in great literature and receive fully funded training from The Reader Organisation: our next specially commissioned Read to Lead training course in Wiltshire is running in February 2015.
“It is unbelievably moving and it is a real joy. We all seem to know that this is a safe place as well; that everybody can share things and emotions and memories.” – volunteer for The Reader Organisation in Wiltshire
If you’re in Trowbridge, you can get a taste of shared reading in our Library Memory groups at a special Christmas themed taster session at Trowbridge Library on Thursday 18th December, 2-3pm. Come along to relax, read, listen and talk about stories and poems, carers welcome. Contact Josephine at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07812 238503 for more information. There will be more sessions coming up in the New Year, so stay tuned to our social media channels for more details.
The effect of the sessions can be best seen from this wonderful poem that one of our group members from Royal Wootton Bassett wrote after regularly attending:
Our Reading Day by John Hooper
Thursday, it is our reading day
A day we enjoy in every way
We listen, learn and read
The social side is good indeed
A joke, a laugh, a cup of tea
The enjoyment for all is plain to see
Too soon we leave and go our way
But it sure has added to our day
The Reader Organisation in the South West runs Library Memory Groups in Wiltshire, Devon and Gloucestershire. For full information see the ‘Reading With Us’ page on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reading-with-us
Following on from two recently published reports by the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool, there’s due to be more upcoming research looking into the benefits of shared reading.
Together with Goldsmiths University, London, CRILS will be running a 3 year research project examining and establishing the value and effects of shared reading sessions on individuals. The research is funded by Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital Trust and is part of our South London project, which focuses on a whole population approach to shared reading. A shared reading group which will be the focus of the research is to be set up in Croydon Central Library for an initial period of 24 weeks.
The project will continue ongoing research into the social and cultural value of shared reading, and is the first to take place in London, where our shared reading projects have been operating since 2009.
Last month, two new reports were published by CRILS examining the benefits of shared reading, looking in particular at the intrinsic cultural value of The Reader Organisation’s shared reading model as a particpatory and voluntary experience and further investigation into how shared reading impacts on improving quality of life for people living with dementia. Conclusions from both reports were positive, finding a series of factors which emphasise the humanising presence of literature and support previous research which has discovered benefits such as improved self-confidence, reduced stress, increased social interaction and community integration . You can download ‘Cultural Value: Assessing the intrinsic value of The Reader Organisation’s Shared Reading Scheme’ and ‘Read to Care: An Investigation into Quality of Life Benefits of Shared Reading Groups for People Living with Dementia’ on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/research
We’re currently looking for anyone who would like to take part in the new shared reading group in Croydon Central Library as part of this new and valuable research. Shared reading groups are informal and voluntary, with no pressure to take part in the reading – you can simply listen to the texts as they are being read aloud.
If you’re interested or would like more information, please call 0781 332 4852.
We’ve already got valued volunteers on board with us in Wiltshire reading with people living with dementia, and now we’re recruiting for volunteer group facilitators for our community shared reading project in Devon.
Applicants will join us to run Feel Better with a Book groups at libraries in Exeter, Tiverton and Cullompton. Funded by Devon County Council and run by The Reader Organisation, Feel Better with a Book groups provide a stimulating environment where people can meet weekly to connect with each other through the shared reading of great literature. This opportunity will give you the chance to become part of The Reader Organisation in the South West, receiving fully funded training, as well as engage with literature on a fresh and emotionally stimulating perspective.
For a short amount of time – one and a half hours per week – you will be acting as an assistant group facilitator in a weekly Feel Better with a Book group before training to independently facilitate the same group. We ask for a minimum of a one year commitment, but the opportunity is ongoing and can last for as long as you and your group want it to.
This position will also benefit from a free place on The Reader Organisation’s revolutionary Read to Lead training, a three-day course in shared reading which will qualify you as a shared reading practitioner able to facilitate in community settings. The three day training will take place at The Hayridge Centre, Cullompton, Devon from Tuesday 25th – Thursday 27th November.
One of current volunteers in Devon explains what volunteering with The Reader Organisation means to her:
“I saw the opportunity to be a ‘Read to Lead’ volunteer as a way of combining what I most enjoy; being in conversation with people of all ages and reading wonderful literature together. I am learning new ways of appreciating others’ thoughts and responses to what has been read, as well as becoming better at listening and staying focused in general. The group is fun, engaging and relaxed at the same time. I have been reading a lot more on my own steam too – as a result of feeling inspired to do so. This is volunteering at its best for me!”
If you have excellent literacy and comprehension, are good at reading aloud or willing to learn to improve your skills, have the ability to manage group dynamics and a desire to relate to people in an open and human way, you could become a Volunteer Assistant Group Facilitator with us in Devon.
For more information on volunteering with us in Devon, please contact Emily Lezzeri: email@example.com or call 07450 167788, and see our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/south-west
Full details of our open Feel Better with a Book groups running across Devon and the South West can be found on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reading-with-us
Calling all budding poets in Wirral – details of the region’s annual celebration of poetry have been announced, as The Chris Salmon Poetry Extravaganza 2015 is open for entries.
Held in conjunction with Wirral Libraries, the competition is held in memory of poetry-loving Chris Salmon, a student at Calday Grange Grammar School who died from a rare streptococcal infection in February 2009 aged just 15. Last year’s competition was an enormous success, attracting over 850 entries from across the region.
The theme for 2015 is ‘Light’, and the competition is open to Wirral adults and students of all ages. Cash prizes will be awarded to both winners and runners-up in each age category (Age 11 and Under; Ages 11-16; Age 16-18; and Adults), and they will also be invited to attend a workshop hosted by a local renowned poet. The overall winner aged 18 or under will also become Wirral’s Young Poet Laureate for the following 12 months.
Chris’s mother Julie Salmon said:
“We are absolutely delighted how much the popularity of the competition has grown, attracting 850 entries last year with the age of the entrants ranging from 5-90 years. We hope that the amount of entrants for the 2015 competition will surpass even last year’s record amount. We are so grateful for the magnificent support we receive from Wirral Council’s Library service as without their support the poetry extravaganza would not exist.”
Cllr Chris Meaden, Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture said:
“Last year’s competition saw hundreds of adults and young people send in their poetry. I know the judges had a really difficult decision to make because of the high standards that were set, and this year will be no different.
It’s always a pleasure to be able to celebrate Chris’s life, and the impact his memory and legacy continues to have on Wirral, thanks to the Salmon family.”
Submitted poems must be no longer than 30 lines. Entry is free, and all entries must be submitted by 15th January 2015.
Winners will be invited to read their poems at a Presentation Night on 27th March 2015 at Bromborough Civic Centre.
Entries must be on or attached to an official entry form (downloadable here) and submitted by 15th January 2015. Entries can be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or in an envelope marked ‘FAO Diane Mitchell’ to Birkenhead Library, Borough Road, Birkenhead, Wirral CH41 2XB
For full competition details, see www.chrissalmon.org.uk