Reader Story: Louise, Volunteer

Louise, Oswestry

My favourite word is ‘joy’ or ‘joyful’ – it sums up how I want to live my life, to find joy in simple things and after 58 years of trying I think I’m doing a pretty good job of it now. But it did take 25 years of clinical depression and several traumatic events, including the loss of a sibling, an abusive relationship and a long spell in a psychiatric unit to get there.

I was extremely lucky to have an amazing childhood, spells of living abroad, seeing and experiencing many different things, I have always had the support of fantastic friends and family – not everyone has been that lucky. Throughout that journey there’s been one constant- books.

I was that child who read under the covers at night with a torch and went to the library every week, The Secret Garden was my favourite. As a teenager I felt so sophisticated reading Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse, how grown up reading French novels! Now my favourite book is The Man with the Dancing Eyes by Sophie Dahl – not a literary heavyweight but it’s constantly by my bed and I reread it several times a year. It’s a cross between poetry and prose, and it’s illustrated – a feast for all the the senses and it’s perfect whether I am happy or sad or thoughtful or frivolous.

I work in a small town library and I’m lucky enough to see the difference literature can make to peoples’ lives on a daily basis. I know three ladies who’ve undergone Read to Lead training in the past and I attended a Shared Reading group they’d started up locally. I could see how special and powerful these sessions were – when the opportunity to take the training came up this year I was thrilled. I’ve been volunteering with an Age UK lunch club and WRVS Stroke Club and I knew Shared Reading could be so beneficial for them. My mum had dementia and I used literature as a way to engage and communicate with her, when she went into a care home I visited regularly and would lead a ‘story time’ session with the residents.

“The whole Read to Lead course was fantastic, the course leaders were brilliant – I’ve never been on the receiving end of such skillfully delivered and amazing training. I came away feeling that I had been given something very special and powerful to take home with me.”

I would definitely recommend it to others, in fact I already have – I’ve been telling people about the whole experience of Shared Reading ever since. Even on a train in Italy, I told a mother and daughter about it – the daughter is a mental health nurse in Bristol and I think my enthusiasm rubbed off, she wanted to Google it straight away.

Since the training I’ve held a taster session at an Age UK lunch club and they want me to come back on a monthly basis. I’ve been fortunate to have an existing Shared Reading network in my home town and I’ve covered for colleagues a couple of times but I’m looking forward to starting my own group very soon. I’ve also held a taster session in a local library for National Libraries Week and we’ve gotten some funding through to read with children in a local school for six weeks. Read to Lead has opened so many exciting doors!

Although obviously apprehensive to start with, because you can appreciate what it takes to run a session well, I’ve really enjoyed it. The training we received was so thorough and the resources provided are excellent, which makes it easier. I spend a lot of time preparing, you appreciate that when you do the training, how important the preparation is.

From the three sessions I’ve been involved in so far I have been staggered by how much individuals, people I’ve not known previously, are prepared to share their feelings, emotions, thoughts – it’s been a privilege and although I often come away quite exhausted, I’m also full of joy at the power literature has on people. One woman told me: “I always thought I was stupid at school because I couldn’t take things in quickly. Today, because we have read slowly, I understood it. I’m not stupid.” Another said that having a story read to her made her feel sad because she’d not had that as a child but at the end she said: “Please come back, I want to do that again, it has made me feel lovely.”

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