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‘I’ve been amazed – truly blown away’ – Catherine’s Reader Story

Written by Rachael Norris, 28th November 2019

Catherine is a volunteer for The Reader in the North West, reading predominantly with older people in care homes. In this Reader Story, Catherine tells us about the joy she has experienced from seeing the impact of Shared Reading with her residents.

Calderstones is a park I’ve been going to since I was a baby, nearly 70 years ago! But I hadn’t been for a long time. I just happened to come across The Reader. I hadn’t known it was there, but I was very excited, because I’m very passionate about reading and literature.

I noticed the invitation to become a volunteer and I just couldn’t believe you could read to people for fun! I did my training and was asked to read in a local retirement village. I’d been to retirement homes before when my mother was elderly and the environment really upset me, so I have to say, I didn’t really want to read with older people – I wanted to avoid that feeling. Hesitantly, I accepted the challenge...

It’s been really good for me to do it, because I’m seeing a different side to elderly people now. The residents here are all independent and can look after themselves, they have very active minds – and are great fun to be with. Some of my group members are in their 90s and they amaze me every week with the things they say - and interesting discussions that ensue.

Roald Dahl short stories go down really well – they’re about the right length and there’s always a twist to the tale. Another thing that went down really well was Beyond the Bayou by Kate Chopin. It’s about a woman who isolated herself from society – and we talked about cutting ourselves off, isolating ourselves, putting up a barrier.

Quite a few of them could relate to that. And they did like it, even though it had that very evocative response. I matched it with Touched by an Angel by Maya Angelou, and that poem made them cry. They liked the poetry and thought it complemented the story.

We also did a chapter from Silas Marner and one of the group members said she now wanted to read the rest of the story and was going to order the book. This really encouraged me.

Another group member, in her 90s, said as we started to read the story, ‘I can remember this from being at school. I can remember it! The whole story, it’s amazing’. Very often the stories spark memories from the past.

You have to pick a good text and read it in a way that engages. It’s the way you read it, you draw them in – then being able to discuss it and helping create a sense of community.

One lady – I had to laugh – said ‘You read beautifully to us and every now and then you get us to talk’.

I think she had me sussed!

I always leave them with the text – and they like that – they read it when they get back to their room, share it with other residents and sometimes read it with their family.

One group member said ‘I’ve been here for 10 years and this is the thing I’ve enjoyed most’. I’ve been delighted by seeing how much they enjoy the sessions and they all attend regularly. ‘I’ve not been well all week – but I didn’t want to miss this,’ one told me.

I’ve also found out things that group members have never revealed to staff. One said her children don’t speak to her. She has no communication with her family. And that came out through the reading.

I just think it’s amazing when they read something so simple like ‘shiny shoes’ and it takes them back to their youth; ‘that reminds me of our dad shining our shoes ready for church. All the choirboys had shiny shoes. They don’t anymore do they?’.

We’ve even strayed into ‘sex and the over 70s’ and had a giggle about it.

It’s also been interesting to see that, in the retirement village, when the staff do my photocopying for me, sometimes when they bring it to me, they say ‘oh it’s a good story’. I’m pleased that they are shared by a wider audience. I’m just thrilled people enjoy stories and that they get a lot from them.

When I did my training, the trainer from The Reader said, ‘You’re going to move people with what you do – you will see an impact’.

I wasn’t convinced. But now – totally agree. I personally love literature and I have been amazed by how these residents are engaged with the text – truly blown away.

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Do you enjoy discovering and sharing great stories and poems? Love meeting new people? Want to make a difference in your local community? If so, Shared Reading could be just the thing for you. And you could be just the person for us. Find out more.

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