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Kate, New Zealand: ‘Shared Reading is a way to unlock the ‘culture of silence’’

Written by Lily Kehoe, 14th May 2024

The former librarian discovered the work of The Reader while studying for a Masters at NZ’s Victoria University. She founded The Reading Revolution in 2015. Now a registered charity, it runs more than 30 free Shared Reading groups. 

I was interested in alleviating isolation and loneliness for older people living alone using free public library spaces. I was searching for an appropriate activity when I found The Reader online. 

Initially I travelled from New Zealand to Liverpool to attend Read to Lead. One of the tutors had quite a similar personality to me so I could see my own potential path. I also observed how the different Reader Leaders used the tools in their own ways - like hosting a dinner party.  

Working with Clare (Ellis, Head of Shared Reading Practice at The Reader) is always amazing - she’s so good at flipping questions back to get you to analyse your own practice rather than giving direct answers. She’s always in Shared Reading mode! I try to also be ‘in the mode” modelling best practice on Read to Lead. If things get ‘squiffly’ I just ask myself ‘WWCD’ - ‘What would Clare do?’.  

“I’m constantly inspired by the grace and emotional intelligence of women in their eighties and nineties” 

I run a few different Shared Reading groups, one is at Auckland City Mission’s residential community at HomeGround (a thriving central city community hub, ‘offering services and facilities for people in greatest need’, including permanent housing, health and social care, state-of-the-art addiction withdrawal services and comprehensive activities programme). 

This is sad because Sam, who set up this group with me, is in a hospice. We alternate between talking about him and doing our reading. We’ve been talking about continuing his work, but it’s like his presence is felt so strongly in his absence.  

We keep expecting to hear his bird whistle round the corner and see him zoom in with a trolley of food and say: ‘I’ve just got to take this call, back in a minute’. 

What’s particularly special about the experience of Shared Reading? The gentleness of being able to talk about big stuff as indirectly or directly as you feel every week just builds such beautiful bonds between us. 

One memorable experience occurred in one of my groups when we were reading Monica Macansantos’ essay A Shared Stillness which talks about relationships and also ballroom dancing. A reader got a bit choked up and teary reading the lines about finding a partner who applied just the right amount of pressure to your hands. It provided a lovely opportunity for us to talk about if and how we show affection in public. 

I loved how the group were so quick to support her in that moment, and also shared their own thoughts 

I’m constantly inspired by the grace and emotional intelligence of women in their eighties and nineties. I don’t know what magic happens in this decade of life, but I wouldn’t have had access to all these wonderful and diverse people without Shared Reading. When I started reading with older people, I was quite nervous, but now I am the most comfortable and have the most laughs with the oldest of my readers!  

Shared Reading is a gift - bring it to those who appreciate it 

In the Pacific we have ‘talanoa which may be described as ‘a process of inclusive, participatory, and transparent dialogue’. Talanoa provides opportunities to discuss authentic knowledge grounded in Pacific values and principles of ‘Ofa (love), Faka’apa’apa (respect), Mālie (humour) and Māfana (warmth)… 

Shared Reading is a way to unlock the ‘culture of silence’ for those who may have a fear of speaking up or of being culturally misunderstood. 

My advice to anyone who is interested in exploring how Shared Reading can be brought to their country or community to find the cultural resonances and connections. Look for local stories and writers for your readers to bring their life experiences to connect with. Try out lots of pop-up taster Shared Reading sessions - you may be surprised to see where you will be welcomed wholeheartedly! 

Shared Reading is a gift - bring it to those who appreciate it. Feeling the love back will make your project more sustainable for you too. 

Thanks to Reader Leaders like Kate, Shared Reading can now be found in countries including Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States.

Start your Reader Leader journey here. To find out more about our International Shared Reading opportunities, visit our dedicated webpage here.

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