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“It’s been a huge part of my recovery.” – A Reader Story from Damien John Kelly House

Written by Lily Kehoe, 6th February 2024

In September 2021, a group of men from Damien John Kelly House – an abstinence-based recovery living centre for adult males in Wavertree in Liverpool – came to The Reader at Calderstones to take part in one of our Big Days Out.  In January 2022, the men started coming to Calderstones every Monday night to attend a Shared Reading group run by Reader staff member, Mary. 

Two of the group members, Paul and Jamie, share their stories with us here. 


I came to the house about 11 months ago because I’d been struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. I’ve had mental health problems all through my life and using drugs and alcohol was just a way of getting by. When things got difficult, I’d tend to turn to them as a way of coping.  When I moved into Damien John Kelly House, there was a noticeboard of activities to take part in. The activities give the day structure – something that I’ve never really been very good at.  I saw information about the Shared Reading group and I thought it’d be ‘like pulling teeth’ and to be honest, for the first couple of sessions, it was! I was still settling in at that time – coming to terms with leaving behind a life in farming and being brought to Liverpool to live in the house.  

Coming to the Shared Reading group at Calderstones every week has grown to mean a lot to me personally. My way of thinking has always been very black and white – it’s one way or the other, there’s no middle ground. Reading these stories and actually hearing other people’s opinions is allowing me to understand there are grey areas and that there are other ways to think.  

I feel blessed to be able to come to the group every week. This is the kind of thing I will take forward when I leave the house. I’ll hope to keep going to a group because I know it’s going to help me be a better dad and a better person to be around. 


I’ve lived at Damien John Kelly House for 2 years. A big part of living there is about having a structure and doing things you wouldn’t normally – things that, for me, fill me with fear and anxiety. The Shared Reading group was one of those things. I’ve been very, very uncomfortable talking to more than one person. Very uncomfortable sharing an opinion – just full of fear about that kind of thing.  

What this group has allowed me to do personally is to feel comfortable, to speak my mind and not worry about getting into an argument or being told I’m stupid. There are times in the group when I’m reading from a page and I’m sweating and shaking but I’m now a million miles away from how I was living my life. 

For me and others, the group has helped us get to know people in a way that doesn’t really happen, even in a therapeutic environment. We’ve heard people’s opinions on things, people’s traumas and their histories – it all seems to come out when we’ve got the literature to talk about.  

A lot of the activities we do in the house are physical or culture based. I’d say Shared Reading has become the lynchpin of it. It’s such a wonderful experience, after a busy day, to come to Calderstones, in a lovely environment and just to relax and feel safe. People come back from the group and their faces are lit up 

Sometimes we’ll have been doing something like boxing and then someone asks ‘do you want to go to a reading group?’ and some of the lads will say ‘absolutely, not’ but then they’re told they have to go. When they come back their faces are lit up – people from all backgrounds, working class lads who said ‘this isn’t for me’ and they come back and they’re full of it, just talking and talking, full of ideas and then they take it a bit further and do a bit of writing. 

It’s been a huge part of my recovery. It’s broadened my horizons and it’s given me the opportunity to be uncomfortable and to realise that that’s not the end of the world.  



In 2022, ahead of his appearance at The Reader’s Gravity Festival, author and screenwriter, Tony Schumacher, visited the Vitality Homes Shared Reading group and said afterwards: 

“It was one of the most amazing nights of my life and I don’t say that lightly. We were sat there in a room with these men and their honesty and their intelligence, it just blew me away. I was listening to them and thinking the love that they’ve all got for each other, it’s incredible. And that sense of community and ability to have honest conversations is so lacking in today’s society.”  

 Hear more from that interview in episode 11 of The Reader Podcast – listen now. 

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