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Birkenhead will host UK’s first community Shared Reading Space

Written by Kirsty Styles, 15th January 2019

Home of The Reader’s first Shared Reading group, launched over a decade ago, now hosts the charity’s next innovation for creating a reading revolution

 Local people urged to make Shared Reading ‘the thing’ they do in 2019 – particularly as NHS 10-year plan focuses on staying healthy and ageing well

The Reader, a national charity founded in Birkenhead, is using the New Year to launch its latest innovation – a new Shared Reading Space at Birkenhead Central Library opening on 22 January at 1pm where reading revolutionaries can create supportive communities around great literature. Sign up to attend here.

Wirral is the oldest Shared Reading Community in the UK, as the place where The Reader’s founder Jane Davis launched her first group more than a decade ago. The new Shared Reading Space launch, in partnership with Wirral Libraries, will also mark the start of the rollout of The Reader’s new brand identity.

Testament to the power of reading aloud together, the area’s Shakespeare Shared Reading Group has been meeting to read and discuss the words of the nation’s favourite playwright every Monday since 2008.

"The most important thing is that people can talk about their own feelings and lives," explains Alison Walters, who leads the Shakespeare group. "It's wonderful that the group has formed such a community.

"We do sometimes hear of people thinking they might not like Shakespeare. But it was one of our longstanding Readers who initially said ‘oh I’ll come and give it a try but I’m not really sure I’m going to like it’. They have really embraced it and now even suggest the plays we read next. They’ve also brought a family member along who absolutely loves it too!"

Alison first joined The Reader as part of a community production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale performed in 2008 in front of 1,500 local people in Birkenhead Park.

Wirral currently has 25 groups running, from Birkenhead to West Kirby. Most are open to the public, while some are specifically for people living with dementia or people in the probation service. Volunteers here are working to open the Shared Reading Space at Birkenhead Central Library on 22 January so Readers, Reader Leaders and keen local people can start to build a revolutionary reading community outside of weekly groups.

As ever, 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.

Research from the University of Liverpool has shown that Shared Reading groups can improve wellbeing, reduce social isolation and build stronger, more supportive communities. 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".

Late last year, The Reader hit a major milestone with the news that it is now supporting 500 Shared Reading groups to happen across the UK every single week. With support from players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, more than 1,000 volunteers now read in prisons, care homes and community spaces, with over 200 of those groups taking place in the North West.

The Reader's work in Wirral is also backed by Wirral Public Health, which has recently committed to the long term provision of Shared Reading as an essential service for residents. Julie Webster, acting director for public health and wellbeing at Wirral Council, said: "We are constantly looking for opportunities to promote health and wellbeing. I am very pleased that we have developed our relationship with The Reader to promote the power of Shared Reading to local people.

"The feedback we've had from residents taking part in Reader sessions is very powerful and goes well beyond attendance at reading groups to feeling more in control of their lives and learning new skills."

"We know loneliness is now considered an important public health problem by government and the new 10-year NHS strategy emphasises the need 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 create healthy communities. We urge those that can to think about joining or leading a Shared Reading group in Birkenhead, Wirral and beyond."

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