Reader Story: The Reader Leader who’s taken Shared Reading to France

The Reader has trained people to Read to Lead all over the world and already has Shared Reading communities from Sweden to New Zealand.

We haven’t yet made the stride across the channel to our nearest neighbour – or we didn’t think we had – until we learned that one former London-based Reader Leader has packed up her handbook and taken the practice there herself.

Alice Colquhoun completed her Read to Lead training in October 2016 and ran two Shared Reading groups in London with a year in a centre for homeless people and a ten-week project reading scripts at the Bush Theatre in Shepherd’s Bush.

She said: “It was really magical. It really made me feel part of London.”

But when her partner took a job in Grenoble, France, and while she was finishing her doctorate, she needed to make the move and leave her groups behind.

“I actually considered flying back each week just to carry on!” she laughs.

The groups were rather special, Alice, who has a theatrical background, explains.

The Bush Theatre group reads a play over six weeks as it’s being produced for the stage. “Reading Hir by Taylor Mac – a piece about gender – was transformative. Many people had no idea about these new terms, like cisgender and trans, so it was like re-learning the alphabet.

“With the homeless centre, we had the opportunity to take a lot of the group to read in Kensington Palace. When I moved, I missed the community aspects of it.”

So, Alice set about launching Shared Reading in France.

“The library in La Tronche was hesitant at first, they said ‘why do you want to do it voluntarily?’. But they agreed to hosting me on a trial basis.

“I really didn’t know how many people would want to speak in English, or whether people would be interested. But we’ve been going since October, have had over 50 enquiries about the group and get 16 people coming each week. People have even approached me asking if Shared Reading happens in Paris, but I have to tell them it’s just here for now.”

Many people join the group to improve their English, Alice says, which means they take things a lot slower than a typical Shared Reading group.

“It’s quite different reading with people with English as second language, but a lot of the life narratives come through regardless of the language barrier,” she says. “They pick up on archetypal mother figures, childhood stories and historical periods – and make clear connections there – there’s a real sense of something bubbling underneath.

“It’s been hard as well – but there’s a strong sense of community in the group which has been really nice to see. Creativity overtakes the fears they’ve had before over knowing right words.”

Alice says the group were keen for British texts at the beginning – and that poetry has “gone down really well, the rhyming and rhythm. But it’s been trial and error”.

Alice even sends an email around to her Readers giving advice about different texts to read for practice while not in the group.

“We read Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, and the character of the mean governess really struck a chord – one group member, in their 80s, broke down and spoke about their experience as a child. It was really amazing that in broken English everything was coming through.

“We’ve talked about wealth and poverty, relating the protests in France at the moment to the texts.

“These stories transcend cultures, the roles people have taken on – fathers, mothers, daughters – and it’s fascinating to translate that to each other.

“Like all Shared Reading groups, it’s people talking about their personal lives with complete strangers. We talk about loss a lot – many of them are retired and everybody’s had very complex lives.”

She firmly believes Shared Reading can easily cross borders.

“It’s a really interesting model for bilingual communities – a really inclusive tool that people should feel confident with. I didn’t know it was going to work but it really does.

“I’ll set up a read group wherever I am in the world.”

Alice has already spent a year in Grenoble and has another to go – but has managed to pick up French on her journey.

If you’d like to set up a Shared Reading group in your local community, email volunteering@thereader.org.uk to find out how to get started.

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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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Birkenhead will host UK’s first community Shared Reading Space

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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Reader Project Story: Shared Reading at Toxteth Library, Liverpool

Funded by Big Lottery Fund and Liverpool CCG, 2009 – 2015

The Reader provided a full-time Reader-in-Residence based at Toxteth Library in Liverpool, focusing on building community through Shared Reading groups.

The Reader-in-Residence set up various long and short-term weekly Shared Reading groups in a variety of local settings as well as in the library. These groups operate within the Toxteth boundary (L8), plus other non-regular reader development activities run in the area.

As part of the project, we read with people living with physical health problems, mental health problems including people with dementia, homeless people and unpaid carers, and people from a varied range of different cultural backgrounds. Group members at Toxteth reported increased self-confidence and self-esteem.

“Without the sense of worth and well-being I have received from being a group member I don’t think I could ever have gone back to work. I’ve been unemployed for nearly five years and have suffered with depression for longer than that so I know first-hand the power that these groups have to change someone’s life”

Shared Reading group member, Toxteth Library.

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