The Reader South West wins at Wiltshire Public Health Awards

A huge congratulations go to The Reader Organisation in the South West, who were winners at the Wiltshire Public Health Awards last night.

Jennifer McDerra, The Reader Organisation's Development Manager for Public Health and Dementia, accepts the Wiltshire Public Health award for improving mental health and wellbeing, awarded to the Wiltshire shared reading project (Photo credit: Wiltshire Council)
Jennifer McDerra, The Reader Organisation’s Development Manager for Public Health and Dementia, accepts the Wiltshire Public Health award for improving mental health and wellbeing, awarded to the Wiltshire shared reading project (Photo credit: Wiltshire Council)

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:

Library Memory Groups in Wiltshire and the South West

BUPA care home 3The 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 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:


The Reader South West Update: More Library Memory Groups underway


Project Worker for Wiltshire Josephine in one of her groups (Credit: Wiltshire Times)
Project Worker for Wiltshire Josephine in one of her groups (Credit: Wiltshire Times)

The Reader Organisation’s work sharing reading across South West England is expanding – not only does our South West team have their very own Twitter page which has over 130 followers, but we’re delighted to announce that TRO now has its first Project Worker operating in Gloucestershire, new territory for shared reading in the South West. Claire Pickard joined us at the beginning of June and will be running Library Memory Groups across the area which start this month.

Our Library Memory Groups, especially for people with memory loss and their carers, have been running in Devon since 2012 and Wiltshire since the start of this year. The groups are designed to be relaxed and informal, sharing a wide range of poetry read aloud which allow memories to be stimulated. As well as generating reading experiences, we’ve also been involving volunteers with a view to continuing the groups in the future.

Josephine Corcoran, Project Worker for Wiltshire, shares her experiences of the first six months of the Library Memory Groups in Wiltshire:

Aside from recruiting to the groups, the shared reading sessions themselves are developing well and are often moving, joyful, interesting and enjoyable occasions for everyone involved.  I’ve shifted towards reading more poetry and less prose with most groups – although each setting is different and I try to choose literature which appeals to the interests and tastes of different people.  Poetry has the advantage of being short, so that reading it aloud, several times and by different groups members, is more manageable.

Recently popular with all of my groups were the eight sonnets which make up ‘Clearances’ by Seamus Heaney, written in memory of his mother.  The poems recall stories and anecdotes from the poet’s life, detailing family histories passed down from his mother and his memories of being with her as a boy and young adult and later as a grown man as she lay on her death bed and in the moments after her death.

Reading these poems provoked much discussion.  Although Heaney was writing about Ireland, many group members, ranging in age from in their sixties to in their early ninties, recalled their own feelings about Catholicism and Protestantism in England when they were growing up.  One man remembered walking past a Catholic Church every day as a child and “knowing that there was something strange there.”  Other members recalled rifts in families when people from different religions married.

There was a lot of discussion about the way that acquired knowledge can provoke division in a family and that although parents might aspire for their children to be more educated than they were, the ensuing differences don’t always make family matters straight forward: “With more challenge than pride, she’d tell me, ‘You / Know all them things.’.

I suppose this sequence of poems was universally popular with my groups because the sonnets deal with subject matter familiar to many people.  We spent one whole session discussing Sonnet 3 which relates the moments when the poet’s mother dies.  Not every person responds verbally as we’re reading and discussing the poems.  Everyone has varying degrees of dementia and some people are not able, or choose not to, speak.  There is no pressure or expectation of anyone to do so.  I try to keep good eye contact while I’m reading aloud so that I can gauge people’s engagement and interest.  Sometimes smiles, nods, sighs (of pleasure or of irritation!) help me understand if people are connecting to the text.

To read the original post in full, visit Josephine’s blog:

Library Memory Groups will be starting this month in Gloucestershire, in Tewkesbury Library on Wednesdays from 11am-12pm and Newent Library on Wednesdays from 3-4pm. For further information, please follow The Reader South West on Twitter @TheReaderSW and visit our website where you will find new pages for Gloucestershire and all the other areas of the South West we are currently working in: