“It is such a meaningful thing to do”: Volunteering in Barnet

DSC_0028The Reader’s volunteer-led projects in Barnet, North London were our first outside of our base in Merseyside and since their start in 2011 they’ve gone from strength to strength, engaging local people in the pleasure – and often, the power – that comes from shared reading.

Our Barnet volunteer projects focus on reading with community groups, memory loss groups and within care and day centre settings for people living with dementia and their carers. We’re working with Jewish Care, Altogether Better and Comic Relief to enable volunteers to receive training and ongoing support to lead groups in pairs, sustaining the shared reading experience for those who we already read with and bringing it to many more people.

Our volunteers in Barnet are from all walks of life and backgrounds – some have joined us after long careers in healthcare and related settings, some have previous experience with sharing reading. Others have experienced the impacts great literature has had on people they are close to, or just simply have a passion for reading that they want to pass onto others.

Jennifer began her volunteering journey with us after regularly attending a shared reading group with her grandmother. She took part in training and went onto run her own group at the care home she worked at. Her story shows how choosing to volunteer can make a change not only to the lives of those who read, but to volunteers themselves:

“I left school with very poor qualifications, but by having the experience of facilitating in shared reading I was led to a more formal course of learning and have since been able to enrol in a course for serious readers, the Reading in Practice MA. I never imagined I would be working towards earning a degree in my whole life so that is a big surprise and benefit for me. It gave me the confidence to leave full-time employment and ask to be a fully-fledged volunteer shared reading facilitator in a community group at Burnt Oak Library. This is good as I have read a lot more short stories and now we are reading a novel together.

You don’t have to have an English degree or any qualifications to be a shared reading facilitator. You just have to be willing to learn a new craft, and be available once a week, ongoing. You equally share the responsibility of running the group with another shared reading facilitator. There is also the support of a network of other volunteers who are all on the journey of becoming shared reading facilitators. Even the best are still learning. You don’t even have to know that much about poems or books.

From admittedly not having a scrap of appreciation for poetry and an increasing sense of shame for not reading very much at all, I have developed a love for poetry and a desire to read. I can’t wait each week to listen to people reading. It is such a rare thing. I feel I have definitely gained more confidence in public speaking. I have far better conversational skills and am able to quote poems, which makes me sound like I have been reading poetry all my life! It makes me feel really clever. Everyone involved is warm and friendly and it is such a meaningful thing to do.

Side effects of volunteering for The Reader: One day down the line, you may have to buy a bookshelf. It might make you visit the library (or even apply for a library card!). You may read that book you have been ignoring for ages. You may develop a love of poetry. You can talk to others about books and poems without any snobbery or pretence. You may make friends. You may want to run more groups. You may be really surprised at what reading together can create. You will definitely enjoy it.”

Read Jennifer’s story in full on our website.

We are now recruiting for more volunteers to join us in Barnet on our Jewish Care, Altogether Better (reading with community groups/community memory loss groups) and Comic Relief (reading with people living with dementia and their carers) projects. Volunteers will be paired to run shared reading groups, with full training and ongoing support from The Reader.

For more information on these opportunities, please contact Paul Higgins: paulhiggins@thereader.org.uk or call 07985 718744. You can also see our website for further details. 

Volunteers Week: Volunteer Reading in Barnet

“Discovering new literature or re-connecting with familiar material is very enjoyable for the volunteer as well as those in your groups and meeting like-minded fellow volunteers is a real bonus” – Helen Deal, volunteer facilitator, Barnet

“I am always more energised at the end of the sessions that we run and am always glad that I went. Even on those rare Tuesday mornings when I may not feel like going to the group and may have to make myself go – I never regret it!” – Vivian Wood, volunteer facilitator, Barnet

One of our volunteer-led community shared reading groups in Burnt Oak, Barnet
One of our volunteer-led community shared reading groups in Burnt Oak, Barnet

Volunteer Week 2015 continues, and today we’re visiting our volunteers in London where we’ve been running our volunteer-led project since 2011. In Barnet, our volunteers facilitate shared reading groups and one-on-one sessions with people living with dementia and their carers, as well as reading with whole population groups in care homes, day centres, community centres and libraries across the borough. Our ever-expanding team of volunteers work individually and in pairs to lead groups, bringing the stimulating, imaginative and enjoyable experiences that come from literature back into the lives of people with conditions that may be considered limiting.

Week on week the groups can prove insightful and challenging in different ways, yet our Barnet volunteers find numerous highlights which are not only testament to the power of reading but also how rewarding volunteering in these settings can be:

“Only a couple of members in my advanced dementia group are able to join in and read coherently, but I like that other individuals are clearly able to follow the poems and seem attentive to the words and the sounds of them. One of the members in particular, ‘Margaret’, has a real air of anticipation at the beginning of each session and is always very focused on those reading. Her eyes are very expressive and when we have prompted her she has managed some appropriate responses:  after a poem about sisters she volunteered her sister’s name – ‘Winfred; younger but taller’ – and some poems about friendship lead to another more vocal member of the group, Cecilia, befriending Margaret, taking her hand, asking her to smile, telling her ‘you are a very lucky woman, because so many people love you’. It was very heart-warming and suggests that although most of these group members now have very limited speech, there is still a lot going on inside.” – Helen Deal

“I am still surprised at how beautifully many residents read who may not otherwise be very articulate, pulling out so much meaning and so many feelings from the words. A lady who I thought might have nodded off whilst we were reading The Jabberwocky and were discussing what the creatures might look like, rose from her recumbent position to say, ‘he must be a chatterbox, you know, jabber, jabber…’ and then she seemed to fall back to sleep, rather like the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland. Another time a man remarked how in The Magpies by Denis Glover the lines that told the sad story of the couple lay right alongside the funny, crazy noises of the magpies, ‘just like life’. Or the day when after reading three poems about birds a woman said, ‘I hate caged wild birds but you have brought three wild birds into the room and we have heard them sing.’ ” – Claire Sive

In time for Volunteers Week, we have a new group led by volunteers starting in Barnet this week, specifically for people with memory loss and their carers. The Feel Better with a Book group runs weekly at Manor Drive Methodist Church Hall, Whetstone on Thursdays, 10-11.30am.

We’re also recruiting for new volunteers to join the project. Applicants will receive training and ongoing support in their role and will be making a long term commitment to The Reader Organisation and their community. We can only offer this advice, direct from one of our current volunteers, if you’re wondering whether it might be for you:

“Join in and be a group member and experience it live. Go with an open mind and open heart. You need to like and be interested in people – forgive them –not everybody is lovable, but everybody has a story.” – Kate Fulton, volunteer facilitator, Barnet

For further information on volunteering in Barnet, please contact Paul Higgins: paulhiggins@thereader.org.uk or call 07985 718744

Volunteers Wanted: Reading with People Living with Dementia in Barnet and Brent

dementia 2One of The Reader Organisation’s largest strands of work is reading regularly with people living with dementia, and we currently have opportunities for people to get involved in volunteering sharing reading in this area across all three of our projects in Barnet and Brent, North London.

The three projects are:

  • Altogether Better (leading reading groups in Community settings for people with dementia and their carers)
  • Reading For The Brain (leading groups and reading One to One both in Care and Community Settings)
  • Jewish Care (leading groups in Care and Day settings with people from early onset to advanced dementia)

Paul Higgins is our Co-ordinator for the Barnet Volunteering Project, and tells us more about the project and its significance to the lives of people taking part:

“Somehow, her Alzheimer’s made her more open, more truthful. There’s a kind of odd poetry in dementia that picks out jagged, glittering pieces of truth and makes you have to reassemble them”.
– Jackie Kay (talking about her mother in Red Dust Road) (2010)

We currently have 17 weekly shared read aloud reading groups spread across both Barnet and Brent, and these take place in both community and care settings. Our groups range from dementia friendly community groups to groups with members in advanced stage dementia, where people still recognise words and lines from poems both old and new.

Through our groups our volunteers are saying to people with dementia and their carers that we value them. By reading with people who may often feel lonely, isolated or frustrated, we take them out of themselves through the stimulation of the book or poem. Opportunity and space is created for the participants to reflect on their life experience, via memories or emotions evoked by the poem or story. Our successful model does not set boundaries in what is possible for people with memory impairment. Through our groups the participants remain creative, engaged and are enabled to better express themselves.

In our reading sessions we introduce quality literature, and this is often poetry with its compressed language,  content, rhythms and rhymes. The conversations that emerge and the smiles that arise out of our reading sessions allow the readers in our dementia group settings to gain freedom, confidence and laughter in place of confusion and confinement.

In dementia linear, controlled time ceases to exist. Connections are made, lost and remade, and found again, continually inside the now of dementia. However, in our groups using our shared read aloud model, the same mind that cannot remember to eat or go the toilet can hold on to the lines of a poem.

This fluidity of time is just one reason that our shared reading projects work for people with dementia. Language is more than words. It is a moment in time that is held in a handful of words and a certain rhythm. All of the emotions connected to the poems that we read together awaken feelings and thoughts in the present, within the session and within the moment.

Our reading model also allows renewed connections to words as expressive language. Whilst the language centres of the brain can be severely affected by the disease processes in many types of dementia, poems and stories can allow someone to connect to words as a means of expression. Feelings and ideas can be shared through the words in the poem. These feelings or ideas might not find any expression in words if the person were left to attempt to put the words together for themselves. Our warm and kind sessions delivered by trained volunteers provide a bridge back to expression in language again.

This is a call to care. A call to bring beauty, humour and meaning to people who are living with Dementia through the power of poetry and prose brought alive in the present moment of the weekly reading session. Come and bring the reading revolution to more Older People in North London by volunteering with The Reader Organisation.

One of our current volunteers is Linda Ward from the Sam Beckman Centre in Hendon. Linda tells her story of what sharing reading with people living with dementia means to her:

I first heard about The Reader Organisation through a request for volunteers sent out by Jewish Care for whom I already volunteer. I met with Paul, the local co-ordinator, and was immediately enthused. I love poetry and the concept was something new. To be reading with people living with dementia was such a wonderful opportunity not just for those I would be reading with but very much on a personal level – to feel I was being of use to the community in a way that would give me immense pleasure.

The training was so interesting; I met some wonderful people who would be working in all different kinds of environments. The trainers were inspiring and incredibly motivating; they provide a wealth of ongoing support and advice. Putting the model into practice was easy; the system is tried and tested and really works extremely well. After my first couple of sessions with a wonderful group of seniors I soon got into the swing of things and I really look forward to each session. No two weeks are the same. There is such a huge source of material from hundreds of years of poetry and prose; it really isn’t difficult to find 2 or 3 pieces each week which will bring members of the group to life in some way – to laugh together, be sad and reflective together – to communicate on whatever level is such a privilege to be the initiator of. 

We have opportunities to volunteer by facilitating groups or reading One to One with people with dementia. Full training and ongoing support is given to all volunteers. Full details of requirements for the role can be found on The Reader Organisation’s website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/barnet

For more information and to enquire about volunteering with us in Barnet and Brent, contact Paul Higgins by calling 07985 718744 or email paulhiggins@thereader.org.uk

Volunteers Week 2014: Liz’s Story

VolunteersIt’s Volunteers Week 2014, an annual event which takes place on 1st-7th June. Volunteers Week celebrates the important contribution made by millions of volunteers to organisations and businesses around the UK, with a range of events, ceremonies and campaigns running across the country during the week to value the achievements of volunteers and encourage people to take part in a volunteering project.

The Reader Organisation offers volunteering opportunities to a variety of different individuals in a number of regions that we currently work in. From sharing reading with some of the most vulnerable people in society to helping us push forward a bilingual reading revolution, all of our volunteers are supported and are a highly valued part of the Reader family.

One of our biggest volunteering projects is ongoing in Barnet, North London. We have recently built on our existing volunteer work in London with two new projects, Reading for the Brain (a project reading with people living with dementia) and Altogether Better (an intergenerational reading project). We’re currently recruiting for volunteers for these two projects in both group leader and one-to-one reading roles, with full training and support provided by TRO.

One of our current volunteers, Liz, has been sharing reading as part of the Barnet project since 2011. Starting off by reading within a community centre in Hendon, she wanted to gain a different experience of facilitation and is now reading in a Jewish Care home with residents who have differing forms of dementia. Here, she shares her story of being a volunteer faciltator with TRO.

Liz’s Story

“After my training, I began running a community group with another trainee. It was helpful to share the facilitation; alternating weekly, discussing issues that arose in the group and finding new material. We each chose poems to use in our sessions, but would short-list several books together before asking the group members’ opinions. We valued the monthly facilitator meetings – which are still ongoing – where we could share experiences and ideas with others in similar settings and have feedback from the Project Leader, Paul. As the group got to know each other, through reading and sharing ideas, they became more supportive of each other, with genuinely caring relationships. At times strong views were expressed by one particular individual, which others found challenging. As facilitators we developed ways to ‘contain’ this and the group members learned to manage the conversations themselves.

An elderly lady, J, took great pleasure in seeing friendly faces each week and the ‘work out for her brain’ as she called it. She attended each week with her daughter and on one or two occasions her grand-daughter. J at times brought poems she had written which she shared after the group. She said she enjoyed hearing the views of group members of all ages; they varied from 24 to 80. Sometimes she would arrive in physical pain and reading seemed to help distract and relax her.

I co-facilitate the Jewish Care group in Hendon with the activities co-ordinator from the home, who also trained with TRO. We only use poems, not fictional extracts or books, as they work well with the needs of the members. Over the 7 months of the group we have seen residents’ mental health change with one lady becoming very depressed and another with chronic anxiety. It helps to share facilitation with someone who is aware of the attendees’ needs and as I have got to know them, I have found the facilitation easier and attendees are benefitting more.In the residential home I have adapted my practice as a facilitator in several ways.

M has very little sight, poor short-term memory and when not in the group is very anxious and finds it hard to relax. I print the poem in as large a font as possible to fit on one or two sheets of paper and we usually read the poem through twice at the beginning, once by the facilitator and then perhaps by sighted members together. I try to read at a steady pace in a loud, clear voice, adding appropriate expression to help keep attention. Often I choose poems that have a strong visual picture to help those less sighted to imagine the ‘scene’ and connect with the poem. M always listens very carefully, laughing and showing expression on her face. She often comments about the poem after hearing it or when we re-read a line. It is especially important to pick up on this promptly as she forgets the poem and her comment quickly and can’t refer to the text as a prompt. Like others, she questions, listens to others, expresses pleasure and appears to relax throughout the session.

It has been a pleasure to see the group pay attention to each other in the short time we have for tea and cake at the beginning. This has grown as the ladies feel secure and familiar in the setting. At times I have brought in articles which relate to the poem, e.g. dishes of spices to smell or purple jewellery and scarves to pass round and feel. Passing round and commenting on items together helps interaction, however small.”

We’re currently recruiting for volunteers for our Reading for the Brain Dementia Project (Group Leaders and One-on-One roles) and our Altogether Better intergenerational Project (Group Leader roles) in Barnet. For more information, please contact Paul Higgins: paulhiggins@thereader.org.uk or call 07985 718744.

You can also find out more about volunteering in Barnet, or other areas in the UK, by visiting our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/

07985 718744

Volunteering at The Reader Organisation: Arline’s Story

Sharing Reading Experience Masthead large 72dpiAt The Reader Organisation, we’re lucky to work with a growing band of hardworking and dedicated volunteers who are helping us to spread the benefits of shared reading even further across communities. With ongoing support, our volunteers are sharing reading experiences and growing in confidence, as well as doing vital work to develop the Reading Revolution.

We’re currently looking to expand the number of volunteers in our Barnet Volunteering Project in London, where volunteers can read for a minimum of half a day a week in older people’s care and local community settings around the area. More details about the project can be found on our website and here on The Reader Online.

Our Barnet project, the first of its kind in community settings, has already been successful, providing many positive shared reading experiences for readers and volunteers alike. This story comes from one of our volunteer facilitators in Barnet, Arline Blass, who recounts her experience of running a group with residents living with dementia in Rubens House Care Home:

“I began working with this group in March 2013 and have been amazed at the response we get from the regular attendees, two women and two men. They concentrate on the poetry we give them and as the facilitator reads they follow the poem, sometimes reading along with us quietly.

They offer to read out loud to the group and with a little gentle coaxing they often volunteer information from the depths of their memory which has been triggered by something in the poem. Over the weeks they have started to recognise the facilitators and we are often greeted by “Oh it’s the two of them again!”

They genuinely seem to enjoy our sessions and usually thank us at the end and say that they enjoyed it. A care worker told us that one of the ladies has become much more friendly towards other people in the home since she has been coming to the group.

We are tremendously fortunate to have a most sympathetic and able member of staff at our sessions. She helps enormously with her presence and her anticipation of problems that may be arising. On occasions a member of the group just will not feel like participating and will doze off quietly. At other times they can be very talkative and will participate with enthusiasm.

Usually there is a theme to the session and we read two or three poems each time. The group responds well to poems about friendship, love and even the Second World War which brought up memories of having been evacuated and what life was like then.

Once when reading poems on travel, one lady volunteered the information that she had travelled to Cambridge when she was young. When asked why she had gone there, she told us that she had been at Girton College studying mathematics. She must have been one of the first women in the country to study maths and she was very happy to discuss it with the group.

It is interesting to discover that sometimes the group do not respond much to some poems while others will provoke lots of conversation and comments.

Sometimes relatives of the attendees sit in with the group and they remark on how good it is to see their family members participating in an activity which stimulates their memory.

It has been a very enjoyable experience for me as well. It is good to know that you can still be useful in your seventies and contribute to the welfare of others.

I frequently leave the Get into Reading sessions on a ‘high’.They are a delightful group to work with and I feel privileged to be able to bring some pleasure into their lives. I have also rediscovered poetry for myself.”

The Reader Organisation is currently seeking volunteers of all abilities with excellent communication skills to volunteer in Barnet. Do you believe in the value of reading? Can you be flexible, open to new ways of thinking and approaching literature and show care for others?

You can find out more about this opportunity, training starting this October, by downloading this flier, seeing our website, or for further information, contact Paul Higgins on paulhiggins@thereader.org.uk or 07985 718744.