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

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:
https://josephinecorcoran.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/reading-with-people-who-have-dementia-in-wiltshire/

https://josephinecorcoran.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/remembering-who-we-are-through-reading/

https://josephinecorcoran.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/the-homecoming-of-sir-thomas-wyatt/

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:
http://www.thereader.org.uk/reading-with-us

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: http://josephinecorcoran.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/reading-with-people-who-have-dementia-in-wiltshire/

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: http://www.thereader.org.uk/where-we-work/south-west.aspx