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 arrived in London in 2017 and soon discovered the thrills and hardships of living in such a city. I was here to study and went in search of volunteering opportunities as I had some free time and the desire to try something new.
I discovered The Reader when I went to an open Shared Reading session at the Southbank Centre during the London Literature Festival. I was immediately interested in this approach to literature, as a way of bringing people together and offering a common ground for discussion. It related very well to my studies as my degree touches on the arts, education and social inclusion but what drove me to become a volunteer was the warmth and the welcoming feeling which emanated from the session I attended.
“As a foreigner in London, the volunteer community of The Reader was the first to offer me a group to belong to.”
I’ve been volunteering for a long time now and for various associations and I know how much the experience can vary depending on how the organisation invests in its volunteers. With The Reader it immediately felt right. The training was the best I’ve ever had in my experience of volunteering, we were immediately taken seriously. The Reader trusts its volunteers and gives them the opportunity to fully develop their potential instead of starting with meaningless tasks before building up to the real thing. The training focuses on leadership and was a good complement to my classes where I’m learning to design educative programmes, it gave me the concrete tips to engage with a given audience.
“I’ve learned to value my own way of leading – quiet and slow – and I was trusted to do something based on literature and communication in a language that was not my own.”
After the training I had the chance to start a group in a day care centre. I told Bryony, the Volunteer Coordinator from The Reader, that I wished to work with older people and had an interest in dementia settings and again she trusted me to have a go and start a group at the centre. I needed some support at the beginning, then rapidly felt comfortable to run the group on my own thanks to the support of the staff at the centre.
We have regular Volunteer meetings and Shared Reading reflections where we have the opportunity to discuss our practice with Bryony. There’s also plenty of resources and materials available on the website and lots of support that volunteers can rely on. It really fuels the engagement, if it wasn’t for our Coordinator, Bryony, and the whole Reader team, I probably wouldn’t have committed myself to this extent.
Indeed, after volunteering for three months as a Reader Leader, I wanted to know if I could be more involved with the organisation. I had to undertake an internship to complete my studies and after a few weeks at an art gallery I realised that wasn’t for me. I asked Bryony if she knew of any opportunities and she mentioned she was looking for a Shared Reading Organiser to help her develop the City Bridge Trust funded project in Croydon further.
Within a few weeks I was helping her to look for new partners and volunteers, promoting existing groups and the project as a whole while also continuing to facilitate my group and cover others when needed. This role has helped me to develop organisational and communication skills while understanding more of what’s involved ‘behind the scenes’ on such a project. The training at the beginning, the liberty to manage my time and tasks has been great for me, and the constant support and encouragements.
“What I found at The Reader is the gift of trust from the very beginning and an ever supportive and warm atmosphere.”
It is also a unique way of engaging with literature and with people, often very vulnerable ones. It definitely helps me to find a path where literature and social engagement could be combined, and opened up professional perspectives.
Get in touch and be part of the story….
Do you enjoy discovering and sharing great stories and poems? Love meeting new people? Want to make a difference in your local community? If so, Shared Reading could be just the thing for you. And you could be just the person for us. Find out more.
If you want to know more about becoming a Reader Volunteer, get in touch and discover how you can get involved.