Over 800 incredible volunteers help us bring weekly Shared Reading groups into communities across the UK. But what is it like, becoming a Reader Volunteer? Sabine shares her story.
“I do feel relaxed when I go back home, because I talked about something, an experience that happened way back. As you share it with others, you relive it – so clearly!” – shared reading group member, South London project
Since 2013, The Reader Organisation has been developing a Reading for Wellbeing project across South London, setting up and training volunteers to run shared reading groups all with the purpose of helping to improve the health and wellbeing of over 1,700 people living in the boroughs of Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham and Croydon. The project was made possible thanks to a three-year funding bid by the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and the Maudsley Charity, and has so far seen a total of over 70 groups meeting in a variety of settings, including libraries, health and community centres, schools – and even Tower Bridge!
We’ve been reaching people of all ages, backgrounds and life situations, using great literature on a weekly basis to help improve confidence, create social networks, widen perspectives and offer a sense of belonging to those who have become especially isolated. In some cases, the reading shared has become a preventative tool for people at risk of poor health, with regular attendance at groups aiming to reduce the need to visiting a GP.
Recently Nicola Crane, Head of Arts Strategy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, visited one of the groups within the South London project to get a sense of how shared reading is working first-hand:
“As the group gets under the skin of ‘Silas Marner’ by George Eliot, the session facilitator, Val, pauses at intervals to reflect on what’s being read and prompt conversations across the table.
I can see pretty quickly why the set-up works. This group is hosted in the welcoming environment of a public library. As people gather and the reading starts, an inviting, non-judgemental atmosphere wraps around them, gathered in a corner of the library, like a protective shield. However, the true value of these encounters is in the power of the shared reading. By deconstructing the joys and perils of the fictional characters, real-life stories start to emerge around the table.
Some, like Uzonna, a retired mental health nurse, remembers passages of her life as a young girl growing up in Nigeria. Others like Maria, who was referred to the group through Lambeth Hospital, enjoys the sharing of “different opinions” and how they “tend to agree at the end”. Hazel enjoys meeting all sorts of different people she wouldn’t normally. Since joining, she and others enjoy the group so much they have swapped the computer lessons they used to attend at the library for this weekly reading gathering.
I left the session feeling revitalised, having reconnected with a piece of literature I read long ago and sharing it with a unique set of people. It was eye-opening to see a group of starkly different individuals loyal to their shared weekly dose of prose, easily drawing similarities between the tribulations of a 19th century weaver and their own with cathartic effect.”
Thanks to the funding from GSTTC and the Maudsley Charity, we have been able to ensure a lasting legacy of the positive wellbeing effects of shared reading in South London. To date, over 30 groups have been taken over by trained volunteers and are proving to be sustainable, with more training planned for the future. The project also includes an ongoing research investigation which will help to determine the impact of the shared reading model on such a wide spectrum of the population at whole.
Here’s to even more shared reading across South London!
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.