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Claudette’s Reader Story – “If you’re looking for empathy and understanding, you’ll find it here”

Written by Maisie Jeynes, 7th February 2023

Claudette is part of a Shared Reading group in Croydon. She talks to The Reader about her experiences, and how Shared Reading helps her connect with other members of the Black and ethnic minority community.


I joined a Shared Reading group in January 2022, when I was looking for something to fill my time and keep my mind active. I don’t see myself as a poet or writer, but thought it would be lovely to have the opportunity to read with other people.

The first time you go to the group, you really feel connected with the other group members. The poetry you read makes you think outside the box. It draws attention to the beauty all around us, and it leaves you wanting more, and to come back again and again.

The Reader Leader gives everyone the chance to join in, and there’s no right or wrong in what we say. With poetry it’s what you see. Hearing from others helps you to think. You feel that ‘togetherness’ – that's what poetry can do. I’ve shared the poetry we read with my friends and my sister, and she’s now found a group too.

In a Shared Reading session, you read at a different pace, and when you share, you don’t feel that the responsibility is yours alone. If we struggle with words, we help each other, and I think it’s beautiful that we share that burden.

The Reader Leader is good at keeping us focused, and giving support when you need it. She's understanding and positive, and when you disclose something, it helps that there’s recognition that it might not have been easy to share.

Shared Reading has led me to think about my past as well. Poetry and stories can trigger memories that are not on the surface, sometimes those that are painful as well as those that bring smiles to our faces.

Once we read a passage from The Lonely Londoners by Samuel Selvon. It’s a story about a man who travelled to London from the Caribbean, and his experiences meeting people and looking for work, which made me think about my past. I came to the UK from Jamaica with my brother when I was nine. Both my parents had left Jamaica by the time I was two. I remember being picked up at the airport by my eldest sister, and taken to their home. We were met by someone who I thought at first was the cleaner, and then I realised that this was my mother. Looking back, my memories of bonding with my parents as a child were not there, and I thought ‘Where is my mother in all of that?

I needed to talk about it and address it. It was cathartic and the group was understanding and supportive. Shared Reading helps you face some of the darker experiences in your life in a contained way. You’re not left to take it home. Different people can respond with experiences they’ve had, so you realise you’re not alone. Sometimes you’ll hear people share a really bad experience, and I think ‘Wow, that happened to others too’.

Shared Reading is an amazing thing to do. You can participate as much as you want, and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, everyone’s welcome. It’s really nice to welcome new people to the group – you've come into something marvellous.

As a charity we rely on the generous support of individuals and organisations to help us change lives through Shared Reading. A donation allows us to train volunteers, provide resources for groups and help reach more people. We want to make sure everyone can attend a Shared Reading group, no matter their background, income or situation, and we'll be so grateful for your help.

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