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!