Volunteers’ Week – Helen’s Reader Story
We kick start Volunteers' Week with a powerful Reader Story from one of our volunteer Reader Leaders.
Today marks the beginning of Volunteers' Week - a national celebration of the wonderful individuals across the UK who give their time and efforts to great causes.
Here at The Reader we have a growing number of fantastic volunteers who make everything we do possible. Whether its by delivering a Shared Reading group in a care home in Barnet or a library in Bristol, cataloging our library of resources in Wirral, keeping our office plants well-fed and in bloom or manning the reception desk at Reader HQ in Calderstones - we couldn't do without them and over the coming years we hope to welcome hundreds more volunteers into our Reader family!
And this Volunteers' Week, we're handing the blog over to the individuals who so generously give back to their local communities and help us bring Shared Reading to more people across the UK.
Up first is Helen, a carer, who volunteers as a Reader Leader in Wirral and who tells her powerful Reader Story in her own words:
Another carer asked me to come along to a Shared Reading group and I was a bit tentative at first, but I made a few little comments, it was quite easy to make comments, and then Clare (the Reader facilitator observing the group) approached me at the end and said "I liked some of the things that you have said and the comments, you're the kind of person we'd be looking for."
Straight away I just thought… I felt like it was the lottery and that finger from the advert was coming down going “it’s you”, and I was really excited. She asked if I'd like to come along to some of the volunteer training and that was it really.
It really appealed to me in terms of what it could do for the people who were leading the group and what it was doing for people, like my friend, who were in the group. It wasn’t just, what I would call a “chardonnay and chat book club”, it had a real purpose and a focus, a seriousness to it and I was just really interested in it. It just felt like it fell in my lap, I was just ecstatic when I got asked, I can remember the feeling…gosh.
When you’re not involved in things, you’ve finished work for a while and you’re at home, well you’re isolated. I think I feel more for The Reader because I’m coming at it from that perspective. At the first sessions I attended, group members were so funny, but they were also lonely and had different things going on. I felt the group was beneficial to them beyond reading - it's not just about the reading, and the understanding of it, it's about coming to the session.
"It's not a therapy but you're going with a purpose, it's beyond reading because people are bringing their life experiences and with the literature and the poem, it's like a prism - You’re looking through it and you just see yourself at first and then you realise that’s there’s loads of other people and they’ve got all different reasons for going and enjoying it. It’s therapeutic in a liberating way."
As a carer you become internalised yourself, isolated and your world becomes smaller so when you go to a reader group whether as a leader or group member, it’s like a reverse of that and you can start to come out of yourself. It’s like going through the woods, you’re on a journey going deeper into a wood and sometimes it becomes brighter and that’s when it’s safe to stay silent or speaking.
"Then the isolation goes, it evaporates, for those couple hours you can be in the moment with those people. You can shine yourself, you can just sort of be yourself."
As a facilitator, I’ve found it really invigorating, it’s like blowing the dust off. It’s navigating something for me, there’s like a pull to it. When Clare asked me to consider volunteering, it was seismic for me. I thought I’m actually worth something and someone has thought you’re of value. When you’re just at home, doing something else you can forget about that and it’s a bit like archaeology, you’re a bit buried and then someone comes along and they find you. My role as a facilitator is to find other people and help them to come out of themselves. I’ve felt it’s been a breath of fresh air and it’s given me confidence. I see it like I’m walking towards a peak where you can see everything.
Now I’ve got a responsibility to read more and to know what I’m going to do in the session, it’s given me a focus. I like the responsibility of it, it’s sort of bringing me back to life. When you’ve had a purpose and you’ve been in a job for a long time, and you’re looking for a new challenge... I see it like a road, I’m on a road and The Reader is part of that journey. In the group it’s not about my journey it’s about the other people in the group. What they are giving to the facilitator is sometimes more than what you’re putting in, that’s why I feel it’s invigorating, it’s not like teaching. I’m just directing the ship, they’re blowing the sails, I’m just steering the course. People say things about their perception of the story and even more than what you would think and it makes you feel open minded and not assuming. It’s brushing up and enhancing the skills I learnt as a mentor.
That's another thing about The Reader they make you feel that you're making the right choices with poems. It's like you're shining yourself again, like a diamond, and it's bringing you out of yourself. It makes you think about your practice more and it makes me think how can I link the poem up to the story.
It's not just we do this poem and now we've finished. It’s become quite obvious to me, the poem can have a profound effect on some people. It's moving people this and I've made a choice to choose this and they’re feeling that emotion. I've got a responsibility, this doesn’t just finish at the end of the session it carries on beyond it. You can stir things for people. The poem whatever the topic is, is having an effect and that was a major thing for me to realise. What you get back from the people in the group can make you reflective and think about your practice and the direction you want to go in.
It has been beneficial. It has given me some self worth. You can communicate through The Reader with other people, you’re coming to something that is structured and you know roughly the format of it. Each session is like an adventure you don’t really know where it’s going to go. Then you can go home and then be a carer, run the household or a business, but you're like stepping out of that role in to another one. It's given me a real purpose and a value.
"It’s like a touchstone (touches the table) to get back in to the world again."
When my co-facilitator had to leave due to work commitments, and I thought, oh I’m going to have to do this on my own now. But it's done me so much good that I've forgotten that I was at that point, that I did feel like that! It feels now that there's been a shift. I just go to the group and it’s natural now. Sometimes it’s good to just be tipped in and we had such good training and such a good grounding in the training, you were built up to succeed by the people running the training. You knew it was going to be alright when you delivered the group.
Since running the group I feel quite confident really, I do, and I say to myself "be confident", be yourself and I wouldn’t have thought before I did it that I would be in that position.
"I do feel quite proud. I'm curious as well about how I'm going to develop. I feel that I've got a responsibility and I'm really lucky that I'm doing this."
I'm alright and I'm doing this; the group members, they could do this, but they're not for whatever reason, and I feel that I’m getting an extra perspective, and I feel really lucky and I see that I've come a long way. I’m no better than them in any means in terms of our interpretation of the text. It’s really exciting. It just blows me away sometimes the things they say or sometimes I blow myself away as sometimes I pick out a line and then it's a catalyst for this conversation or imagery and then I think wow I am really lucky to be doing this. You couldn't script the sessions, it's just alchemy.
Recently I spoke at a poetry reading at the Library. I saw the October poetry advert and I thought I need to get in to that A - for The Reader and B - for myself. If I hadn't done the Reader training and wasn’t leading the Shared Reading group then… I read three of my own poems. I looked up at the audience and took my time. I just felt confident saying them. Someone said they liked my poems and asked me to read some of them at the Oxton Secret Gardens. I felt quite good standing there. It was like when I got asked to do The Reader, I was like….it just makes you feel good about yourself, someone has actually noticed you.
"I would say to anyone to do it (volunteer). I just can’t say enough about it."
Everyone who has been guiding us, it was comforting to know you had such support and getting such nice feedback about how you're doing. The Reader is like an orchard where all the best apples are. Everyone is just really nice. And all the other volunteers they’re all really nice too, and when you go to a meeting, you’re just made up to see them. It’s like a big chain reaction.
When people ask me now what do you do, I don't say I'm a carer, I say I'm a Reader Leader. Now I can say, I’m doing this, and be vibrant talking about something.
Interested in becoming a Reader Volunteer? Get in touch and become part of the story: