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