Sheffield celebrates Shared Reading

Last month, just days after our 2015 AGM, we headed to Sheffield for a special event showcasing and celebrating the impact of shared reading. We’ve been working with Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust since 2011, and for the last year have had a dedicated Reader-in-Residence delivering shared reading sessions across the trust in inpatient, community and primary care settings.

Sheffield cakeStaff and volunteers from across the trust, including those who have lived experience of mental health, joined us to share their personal experiences of shared reading and the differences it has made to them both personally and professionally, in their jobs and communities in which they live and work. As well as hearing these powerful first-hand testimonials, there was the chance to read a selection of poems collectively – and enjoy a slice of specially-made Reader cake!

Along with our Founder and Director Jane Davis, Katie McAllister, The Reader’s Development Manager for Mental Health, was also in the audience:

“Mia Bajin, the Patient and Public Involvement Manager at SHSC, who was instrumental in Sheffield commissioning a Read to Lead course way back in 2011, talked about the history of the project and about how much has been read since it started  – it’s almost the equivalent of reading every Shakespeare play 15 times!

After hearing from our Reader-in-Residence about the range of groups that have been set up and supported by The Reader in the past year, we got to hear from Read to Lead trained mental health and social care professionals and how the training has impacted trust service users directly through the delivery of shared reading.

“You learn to carve a space, and people see an opening to say what they want to say” – Read to Lead trained member of staff at Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust

“The words, they’re lovely” – reaction from a dementia patient reading within Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust

We broke out into three shared reading sessions in which we read Wood Grouse on a High Promontory Overlooking Canada by David Guterson (thanks Shaun!) and Evening by Rainer Maria Rilke. Finally, we heard from Trust Chief Executive Kevan Taylor who talked about his own personal reading experiences, and what reading meant to him. Of our work he said, “the evidence base [for shared reading] is clearly there”.

“There’s an Emily Dickinson poem for every day of your life” – Kevan Taylor, Chief Executive of Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust

At the centre of the event was the work we have been doing within SHSC for the last year. Shaun Lawrence is Reader-in-Residence for Sheffield:

“On the day, I was caught up in the moment and was kept busy hosting the event and speaking about my experiences, so much of the morning was, I confess, rather a blur. For me the event was the culmination of a year’s work which began in November 2014 as I joined The Reader, since when I have been working to develop my skills as a shared reading practitioner alongside building up a solid relationship with colleagues in the Trust, in order to establish and develop my groups.

I was thrilled to realise the depth of feeling for the work that I have undertaken at SHSC over the past year. I got a real sense of the strength of the connections that had been made between people on the wards, and of the lasting effects of the shared reading groups which extended beyond each of the weekly sessions. I was also delighted by the sense of pride in the project that was evident in the volunteers, ward colleagues and recent Read to Lead trainees here at SHSC, and hearing the testimonials from them was for me, a real joy. Indeed, to hear first-hand experiences from staff about the impact of those groups on service users, and also with staff alike, really brought home to me the difference that the work of The Reader is making to people’s lives across the Trust.

I was very proud to be able to celebrate the success of my project in Sheffield and felt that having Jane present to hear the heart-warming testimonials from long standing volunteer readers was a validation in the trust that The Reader placed in me as a remote worker.”

Congratulations to Shaun and everyone involved in making shared reading such a success in Sheffield.

Volunteers lead the way for shared reading in Leicestershire

“It has been really exciting to watch something grow (like a seed) where it didn’t exist before, to watch it flourish and to be part of bringing that about is really exciting… I am always amazed at what we can learn through sharing our experiences with others.” – volunteer group leader

One of our groups sharing some reading as part of the Leicestershire Libraries project
One of our groups sharing some reading as part of the Leicestershire Libraries project

Since April 2014, shared reading has been taking place weekly in libraries across Leicestershire. The Reader Organisation partnered with Leicestershire County Council for the Leicestershire Libraries project, with volunteers being trained and supported to set up and run reading groups using our shared reading model. From one pilot group, seven groups now run across the area – all but one of which are led by our volunteers – and over 170 people in the area have experienced shared reading since the project began. We’re happy to say that feedback has been very positive, with benefits such as a deeper sense of relaxation and the forming of friendships emerging from the comments given by group members:

“I really have enjoyed beginning my week with this session. It’s a chance to catch up with the friends I’ve made and to lose myself in the depths of stories every week.”

“It has become a ‘must’ for my husband, he has memory problems, and looks forward to the group.”

“I need a goal to make me leave the house. I now look forward to Fridays.”

You can read more about some of our Leicestershire group members and their growing connections with shared reading on our website: Leicestershire Reader Stories

The success of the project simply wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of our volunteers, who give up their time week on week to offer the opportunity to take part in shared reading to new and returning members. Their commitment and enthusiasm has allowed bonds between those who read to flourish, and the experience of connecting with literature and the community has proved rewarding for them too. One of our volunteer group leaders shared their story of how they’re finding it so far:

“One of the first things which struck me about the groups is the ability of poems and short stories to open (or reopen) people’s minds to new thoughts. I believe there is something ‘childlike’ about all art – but literature, in particular, for me, is about allowing ourselves to play ‘let’s pretend’ and be carried along with the unfamiliar experiences/ideas which the author or poet is guiding us through. To do this in a group is extraordinary and seeing how different members respond is fascinating.”

The project has been recommissioned for 2015-16, enabling it to reach even newer heights – plans are underway to open two new groups in Loughborough and Market Harborough.

We’re currently recruiting for new volunteers to join the project and help run our shared reading groups across the area. Training will take place on Monday 7th, Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th September at Wigston Library, Leicester, with continued ongoing support from The Reader Organisation and the library service.

If you are interested in volunteering in Leicestershire or want to know more about the project, please contact Nicola Bennison, Leicestershire Libraries Project Coordinator:

Take a look at our current list of open groups in Leicestershire – in Melton Mowbray, Coalville, Hinckley, Wigston, Blaby, Oadby and Glenfield – on our website: