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Celebrating 10 years of Shared Reading in Belfast this Volunteers’ Week

Written by Lily Kehoe, 5th June 2024

Highlights include a beautiful Shared Reading space, vast library of fiction and poetry, including Irish writing - and a surprise visit by the new Irish prime minister or Taoiseach, Simon Harris.  

Belfast's Shared Reading volunteer team, founded by Marnie Kennedy (fourth from left), who are celebrating their 10 th anniversary in 2024. They welcomed The Reader's Shared Reading and Support manager Anna McCracken (third from left) on a recent visit.

Our Belfast Reader Leaders are spending the year celebrating a decade of volunteer-led Shared Reading in Northern Ireland. This growing movement is spearheaded by Marnie Kennedy in partnership with the 174 Trust and the Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts in North Belfast.  

How it started… 

Marnie trained as a Reader Leader in 2014. Her deep personal connection to literature, and a sense of possibility and potential led to Shared Reading establishing a community project in the heart of North Belfast.  

She says: “The Reader seemed like such a great fit for North Belfast – working class people who have been through enormous trauma during the conflict. A community that has coped, and continue to cope – with strength, open-heartedness, gratitude, and a warm welcome.” 

Shared Reading in Belfast has found a home at the Duncairn – a local arts centre which initially made Marnie and her team welcome through the Reverend Bill Shaw and the 174 Trust – through raising money, making training possible and helping Shared Reading have a base. Readers gather in the Duncairn nearly every week of the year and the community has given them a warm welcome from day one.  

On a visit to the Duncairn in 2022 I was struck by just how much Shared Reading is embedded into the community there – including a welcome board of poetry, and a beautiful Shared Reading Space.  

In 2018, Shared Reading in Northern Ireland experienced particular growth and a wider cohort of people were trained as Reader Leaders. New partnerships developed in many different settings.  

“I think of the word ‘serendipity’ to describe our relationship with The Reader.” says Marnie. “At exactly the moment we were looking, we discovered The Reader, trained as Reader Leaders, and now access the central support and infrastructure that we need.” 

How it’s going…a decade on? 

“We’ve some readers who have retired, and new ones join us,” explains Marnie. “We took Shared Reading online during COVID, and even managed to train some new Reader Leaders. Shared Reading remained available for the people of Belfast – first through Zoom, and then outdoors in the Grow Community Garden.  

“We have since returned to the Duncairn, and Belfast Central Library. We now have a second weekly group at the Duncairn, and it means that the people of Belfast can access Shared Reading three times in a week, delivered through our dedicated team of Reader Leaders. 

“People are back reading in person, and it means a lot to them. I’m very proud of the vast library of fiction and poetry we have read over the years, particularly Irish writing. We deeply value our shared time and the opportunity for conversation and reflection. 

“An unexpected thing happened in May. We were invited to speak to the new Taoiseach, Simon Harris, on his visit to The Duncairn. We blew his socks off, of course! It was short notice, and other readers couldn't make it, so I brought some long-time participants and they spoke beautifully. His aide came and asked for information afterwards. It does no harm to speak to a Head of State!” 

Our heartfelt thanks to Marnie and her team, to the staff at the Duncairn, and of course to the community of Readers in Belfast – enjoy your celebrations!  

Words: Anna McCracken, Shared Reading Volunteer Services Manager 

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