Outnumbered star Claire Skinner lends her voice to the campaign for reading aloud together

Actor joins The Reader on stage at historic Toynbee Hall to help make the call for a Reading Revolution in 2019

 Local people urged to make Shared Reading ‘the thing’ they do this year – as NHS 10-year plan brings focus to staying healthy and ageing well

National charity, The Reader, is using the New Year to make a call for people across London to join the ‘Reading Revolution’.

Actor Claire Skinner will join The Reader’s founder Jane Davis and local Readers at an event on Thursday 17 January to read aloud something that says ‘revolution’ to her at the historic anti-poverty charity Toynbee Hall. The public are invited to lend their support too.

For more than a decade, The Reader has been reading aloud in prisons, care homes and the community. Research from the University of Liverpool has shown that Shared Reading groups can improve wellbeing, reduce social isolation and build stronger communities.

With almost 100 Shared Reading groups in London – in Barnet, Croydon, Hammersmith and Fulham, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton and Barnes, and Kensington and Chelsea – The Reader has thriving hubs across the capital led by dedicated volunteers committed to improving people’s lives through this highly impactful practice.

Claire Skinner said: “This is the time of year when many of us are looking to try something new or make improvements to our health and wellbeing, and getting together to share in the joy of a great novel or poem is a way for all of us – regardless of age, background or life situation – to feel positive. If you’ve not tried it before, make 2019 the year you give it a go!”

“The new NHS strategy highlights the need for people to stay healthy and age well,” said The Reader’s founder and director Jane Davis.

“At The Reader, we believe a reading revolution that helps people come together, around great literature, to talk, laugh and share is a simple way to prevent people falling into crisis, or help them out when they can’t see a way forward. We’re thankful for our army of volunteers who help us do just that – and we urge those that can to think about joining us in London, whether as advocates, volunteers or supporters.”

Suvi Dogra, who runs her weekly Shared Reading group in West London, explained: “Group members often tell me how much they love being a part of something that gives them a sense of belonging, no matter where they come from. Reading aloud and reading together shows the power of communication and language, while unraveling the mysteries of literature. Watching this self-discovery unfold in my readers is where true magic dwells, making it the most rewarding experience of my life.”

Last year, The Reader hit a major milestone with the news that it is now supporting 500 Shared Reading groups across the UK every single week. With support from players of the People’s Postcode Lottery and others, more than 1,000 volunteers now read in prisons, care homes and community spaces.

Groups are free and open to all, normally last an hour or an hour and a half, and run every week in local community spaces. As one local group member said: “The reading groups are a different kind of medicine and it’s through them that I’ve found a way back to life”.

Everyone who leads a Shared Reading group experiences The Reader’s transformative Read to Lead training and can go on to start new groups in places like sheltered housing or care homes.

To get involved with The Reader, email: volunteer@thereader.org.uk.

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Reader Story: Gordon, Read to Lead Graduate, Westminster

Gordon is Learning Support Librarian at Maida Vale Library, Westminster. He attended the Read to Lead London Open Course in January 2011. This is his Reader Story in his own words:

This course equipped me with the whole range of skills and, just as importantly, the confidence needed to run a Shared Reading group at Maida Vale Library. On a very practical level, I’m now better at reading aloud to children, something I do a lot of in my job as a librarian. In particular, in tune with the course mantra I now read more slowly, which reveals the delights of the story in a very immediate way.

Most gratifyingly, the sense of accomplishment and purpose which I get from running my group has spilled over into a general increase in my job satisfaction.

I have to say that the absolute best thing about the training was the wonderful atmosphere of mutual support and generosity, skilfully engendered by the trainers and embraced both individually and collectively by the trainees. Everything fitted together in a perfect blend of theory and practice.


Gordon has given permission for his name to be used in this Reader Story

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Reader Story: Jane, Kensington and Chelsea

Jane attends a Shared Reading group in Kensington and Chelsea, this is her story in her own words:

The reality of life is we have to take hold of what it deals us and we can’t pass the cards back.

Two years ago I was introduced to Shared Reading through Kensington and Chelsea Library bibliotherapy services. It was a time in my life where depression seemed to over take normal life and rip reality to shreds: normality, work, family, and me, all the bits that gel together to make me.

During this time among medical help and counselling sessions I decided to give Shared Reading a go. I have always loved books and to discover the group was held at the library which for me was a “safe” place where I felt secure, the point of reading aloud embraced me.

I could step out of the terrifying place my mind was in, let go of fears holding me and step inside the book. Nobody judged me, just offered me a new brighter road of adventure (they even showed me the way to the kettle, now what more can a girl ask).

There have been times when leaving home has been a battle and loneliness seems like a raging river without any island, but I soon realised that books could be a life boat and an amazing safe environment. I can climb aboard some totally amazing authors and titles which I never dreamt I would open, let alone to read aloud, and enjoy the golden treasures of authors such as Lawrence, Dickens, Hardy, Shakespeare, George Eliot, John Steinbeck, Andrea Levy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher and many many more.

It’s rather like an enchanting forest where I can take my place, where words become friends and I can be strong and week by week, the beauty enfolds me in so many amazing novels like flowers in bud hiding their beauty and trees standing in their long lasting roots of power. Unfolding with novels some accented, some new, futuristic, happy, sad, we may often see their beauty but the wonder is we can revisit them time and time again relaxing in their safety. Poetry being the icing on the cake of course, rather like a menu that lasts forever with something for every taste but leaving us hungry for more.

Since attending I have taken an opportunity to share a passion that’s very close to my heart and that is to read to children in a story time session. This has proved so valuable, therefore helping me to regain my confidence. The power of taking hold of the joy children feel when they listen to stories just for them for me is totally priceless

Well my friends I do hope you have a taste of what Shared Reading means to me. If I can leave you with a final image of our group, it’s rather like a jigsaw where every piece is different but plays a vital part. Take a moment to reflect. Of course being a Shared Reading group we have poetic licence so the picture on the puzzle may change from time to time but the vision is of a truly outstanding puzzle that contains some page-turning tales and means a lot to so many people including me.

I often wonder if Dickens could tune in or perhaps even Skype us at a Shared Reading group what would he make of it all … I just know he would most certainly be over the moon!


Jane has given permission for her name to be used in this Reader Story

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Reader Story: Anne, Volunteer, Rubens House, Barnet

Anne is a volunteer on the Barnet project, she has told her Reader Story in her own words:

The Shared Reading group at Rubens House, a Jewish Care home in North London, has been running since summer 2012. It goes from strength to strength. We have nine regular attendees, a mix of men and women, all in their eighties and nineties, many of them quite severely disabled. While a few are in the early stages of dementia, most are able and keen to enter into deep debate about the texts we share.

We are lucky that the manager and all the staff at the home are extremely supportive of the group. There is always staff representation at the sessions, and a care worker is currently training to be a Shared Reading facilitator, and will co-facilitate with me from the New Year. From that time there will be two Shared Reading groups at the home, the existing one, and another for residents with more advanced dementia. Volunteers are currently being recruited for this.

Staff tell us the group has had a very positive effect on members. They talk about it all week, apparently, and about the texts we have shared. One, whose dementia we thought precluded much understanding, has started reciting poems with great enjoyment between our sessions. Even the music events the home arrange do not have the same impact.

‘Mondays have taken on a completely new aspect. I’ve got something to look forward to now, for the first time in years’, one member said to me recently.

Every story and poem has created an enormous degree of interest and discussion, both on an intellectual level, and in terms of personal responses. This is a very empathetic group. Even those few members who do not speak very much show by their body language that they are feeling the stories and poems.

The Loudest Voice by Grace Paley inspired fascinating conversations this week. The story is about a Jewish girl who is asked to take a leading part in her school’s nativity play, and the reactions of her parents and neighbours. Group members all related to this situation. Some spoke of their enjoyment of Christmas carols at school, something never mentioned to their parents. They were unanimous in their approval of the religious tolerance of the father in the story.

In fact this is a tolerant group in lots of ways. I very much admire members’ forbearance and respect for each other. There are always plenty of people volunteering to read, and some are astonishingly good readers, while others have great difficulty reading a few sentences. Sometimes words are barely audible, sometimes whole paragraphs get muddled up, or missed out, or repeated. No one shows any impatience. Nor do they when members constantly lose their place as they try to follow the text, or say the same thing over and over. We have visitors to the group almost every week. Members have taken these constant changes very courteously in their stride.

On a number of occasions we have all struggled initially to grasp the meaning of a text, especially with the poems, but this is a group with an impressive amount of perseverance, and between us we have worked it out. Blank looks and even expressions of dislike on a first reading change to nods, smiles, excited talk, and a justified sense of pride.

We recently shared the opening chapter of My Left Foot by Christy Brown, to see if it would be suitable as a first book to share. Everyone loved it. There is never any shortage of discussion with this group, but on this occasion the level of engagement was amazing. We’re all waiting with bated breath for the books to arrive. I know we will get lots of pleasure and interest, and indeed quite a lot of sorrow from the book. I hope to arrange a showing of the film for when we get to the end.

I feel very privileged to work with this group. The members are truly inspiring. Some of them say they love the group because it keeps them learning. It keeps me learning too, all the time. I have learnt to break up texts more often than I have in the past, because memory and comprehension levels are big issues in a group where everyone is very old. I have learnt more about ways to help generate understanding. And I have learnt a lot about some remarkable people.


Anne has given permission for her name to be used in this Reader Story

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