The Reader creates landmark ‘through the gate’ Shared Reading collaboration with Suffolk Libraries and local police funding body

The search is on for volunteers to deliver Shared Reading groups in three of the county’s libraries

The Reader is working with Suffolk Libraries to launch a new kind of Shared Reading Community in Suffolk. It has been created to transform rehabilitation for local people leaving prison, improving wellbeing and building community, through reading aloud together.

For more than a decade, The Reader has been bringing people together to talk, laugh and share great novels, poems and plays in local community spaces, such as care homes and hospitals, as well as prisons.

Shared Reading groups are free, open to all, normally last an hour or an hour and a half, and usually run every week. Late last year, The Reader hit a major milestone with the news that it is now supporting 500 groups to happen across the UK every single week.

This year-long ‘through the gate’ pilot will see six volunteers trained to lead new Shared Reading groups in three Suffolk Libraries, with 30 local people benefitting from reading aloud together each week.

For this project, the Suffolk Community Foundation has allocated funds from the Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner, to help people leaving prison develop better relationships with themselves and others, improving their rehabilitation and supporting the Commissioner’s objective to reduce re-offending.

Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore said: “I am very pleased to be able to allocate funds from the PCC fund to support the rehabilitation of offenders through this innovative project.”

He added: “I had the opportunity to visit Warren Hill prison recently to see at first-hand the difference that this project is making. I’m pleased to see the additional funding from my office will enable them to further develop the project in Suffolk.”

Andrea Pittock, Head of Grant Programmes, Suffolk Community Foundation said: “In addition to inviting people supported by community rehabilitation services in Suffolk to join the groups, we also hope that local residents will be inspired to attend and experience the joy of reading aloud together.

“Shared Reading creates meaningful time for self-development and self-expression, and offers a chance to meet new people, both of which are an important means of building resilient communities.”

Suffolk Libraries is an independent and charitable organisation that runs the county’s 44 libraries. Sarah Lungley, Suffolk Libraries Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator, said: “Our libraries are welcoming and non-judgemental spaces that have been the focus for many innovative and positive community projects in recent years.

“We know the positive effects Shared Reading can have on wellbeing and we’re thrilled to be working with The Reader on such a great opportunity to provide something beneficial during what is a difficult period of transition for many people.

“We already work closely with the prison service to provide a library service in the county’s three prisons and have seen how reading can make a difference to people’s lives.”

The Reader has worked in the criminal justice system for over a decade, and today supports Shared Reading in more than 40 prisons and probation hostels across the UK.

“The Reader has been reading with offenders since 2009, and we know from research done into this work that it helps them feel more safe and confident in themselves, helps them relate better to other people, and helps them think more about the future,” said Jane Davis, founder and director of The Reader. “You don’t have to consider yourself ‘a reader’ to join in – many people come along to our groups just to listen.

“We know both national and local decision-makers are increasingly trying to build better collaborations to make the transition from prison to the community better – and we believe Shared Reading has a role to play in that.

“We’d like to thank the Suffolk Community Foundation, which administers funds for the Police and Crime Commissioner, and Suffolk Libraries, for enabling us to make this transformational project happen.”

Anyone wishing to register interest in training to become a volunteer, joining a group. or partnering in this community collaboration should contact The Reader’s local lead: Heidi Hollis on heidihollis@thereader.org.uk.

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