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

Making a Social Impact: The Reader Organisation and the Smarta100 Awards

SmartaThe Reader Organisation has been shortlisted as one of the 10 finalists in the Biggest Social Impact category at the upcoming Smarta100 Awards, celebrating the achievements of small businesses across the UK that have the most original ideas and make a true difference to society. Click here to cast your vote for TRO – you could help us to win £1,000 as the category winner and the £10,000 grand prize.

The Smarta100 Awards aim is to find ‘the beacons of enterprising Britain’ – the small firms and organisations that are pushing the recovery forward. Having grown considerably in a short space of time, The Reader Organisation is making a difference to local communities, helping to improve people’s lives through the practice of shared reading and contributing to society’s happiness and wellbeing. The social impact we’re making connecting people through great literature is being felt week on week by our group members, who comes from all walks of life and backgrounds, ranging in age from six months to 103 years old.

VolunteersOur weekly shared reading groups are for everyone, running in settings around the community – so everyone can feel the benefit of sharing a good read in good company. But through this we also regularly reach the people who need it the most, who may not otherwise get regular social contact: people living in or at risk of isolation, people suffering from conditions including depression, anxiety and dementia, prisoners and people in secure forensic psychiatric settings, children in care and excluded from school, residents in care homes and hospitals. Through the sharing of stories and poems, thoughts and experiences emerge as well as personal connections, and a holistic approach to health and wellbeing is observed. The benefits of attending a shared reading group are far-reaching, ranging from gaining the confidence to do everyday things that bit easier to providing a greater sense of belonging, or even in some cases giving a ‘lifeline’.

It’s from our community of readers that the biggest sense of personal and social impact that comes from shared reading can be felt. Here is some of what they say:

“Coming to the group for the first time was not easy but when I did my immediate thought was ‘this is for me’.  I felt a sense of happy relief that I had done it.  The stories affected me emotionally and they gave me pleasure.” – reader in Brompton Library, London

“Since coming to the group I have found that my tastes have expanded and my confidence in reading aloud has changed for the better.” – reader in Wirral

“I […] was blown away with how the group and staff welcomed me like I’d always been there. This group has been a lifeline for me. I escape everyday pressures for a few hours every week and I’d be lost without it.” – reader in Toxteth Library, Liverpool

“I’m really happy to quietly enjoy – you can get involved or you can sit and quietly enjoy yourself […] it’s important, I feel, there’s so much enjoyment there – you learn so much from other people.” – reader in Cornwall

Read more of our Reader Stories on our website to see the many different impacts shared reading is making on individuals and communities: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reader-stories.aspx

The Smarta100 Awards are open to public vote, with the winners of each category and the overall grand prize being announced on 12th November. The Reader Organisation is creeping up the leaderboard but we need your help to stay there. Click here to vote: http://www.smarta.com/smarta100/2013/the-reader-organisation/ – it takes less than a minute! Voting closes on Friday 1st November.