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Kerstin, North Germany: ‘In all these groups I’ve the privilege to continuously learn’ 

Written by Lily Kehoe, 14th May 2024

An experienced Reader Leader, Kerstin now runs several Shared Reading Bremen groups since training in Berlin with The Reader in 2017. And in summer 2022 she helped launch a non-profit association offering in-depth training for others.  

How I first heard about Shared Reading  

In February 2017 I read an article in the local newspaper about an information event on Shared Reading in the library. I went along to it and was absolutely thrilled. I did my Read to Lead training in June 2017 with trainers from The Reader in Berlin.  

Afterwards I went to Liverpool several times to deepen my experiences and had the pleasure of gaining further impressions on Shared Reading in different settings. These included Shared Reading with people in care homes and with dementia, a group in an alcohol and drug rehab, in a parish centre, in a small library close to Liverpool and with groups at Calderstones. 

My experience of Read to Lead training  

I was touched, thrilled and happy. During the whole training I thought: ‘Finally! This is what I have been looking for’. Even better for me that the training was in English, because I like this language very much.  

What a fantastic offer - great literature in all its variety, a model that offers easy access to reading, slowness, kindness and openness. There’s never ‘The Right Answer’.  

Come and join us with your experiences, with your moods, your energy or your weakness. We celebrate you for being here with us and together we will embark on a journey, certainly rich with adventures, question-marks and great insights. 

Where will we land? No idea! But one thing is certain, every session will offer us changes and personal growth. 

The three main things I gained 

Certainty that Shared Reading is a wonderful offer for each and everyone. 

The bright wish to establish and offer Shared Reading in Germany. 

To stay in contact with The Reader. 

My main experiences of the Train the Trainer programme 

Learning never stops. 

Shared Reading gets even more exciting the longer I do it and the deeper I look inside. 

Training people to become Reader Leaders is a high-responsibility and a highly diverse task rich in great, soul-warming and serene moments.  

“In all these groups I have the privilege to continuously learn, am bestowed with surprises every session” 

My Shared Reading groups   

I run several groups. The Quarter Centre has been going since 2018. Group members are between 27 and 88 with very different biographies from different home countries. Some had already been enthusiastic readers, some had hardly touched a book. In the beginning most of them were quite suspicious of reading poetry. Now they are curious and experience prose and poetry as shared adventures. 

I’ve offered an online Shared Reading group since 2020 because pandemic times made meeting in person impossible, and it’s continued. This group is aged between 40 and 82. Although they’ve only met on screen the group members feel like real life old pals. In the beginning some of the members felt quite superior (‘I know my literature well’) and were impatient with other group members who slowly tried to find words for their feelings and personal impressions.  

Now we have a group of attentive listeners - it’s just enthusiasm or deep emotions which makes A or B interrupt other group members’ contributions from time to time. 

The Sunday bookshop group has been running since 2023. On Sundays the bookshop is closed, so it’s a good opportunity to keep this place swinging with shared experiences around life and literature. Here we’ve around seven people who join every session and some who just come and go. The youngest so far are in their twenties, the oldest in their mid-seventies. In this group because of the fluctuation, I know even less than usual what will happen during the sessions which offers me great and exciting extra opportunities to really be attentive, interested and open-minded. 

The Saving Bank Group has been running since 2023. We meet after closing time at 6pm and they’re a colourful bunch of all sorts of people. Some come regularly, some from time to time. We have people from other countries too - mostly refugees - learning German as a third or fourth language. 

The new After Therapy Group was launched in 2024. This group is quite young, both in ages - 17 to 36 - and in time - three months. We’re in the warming-up period. People are checking out what is happening and who the other people are. And there are the first signs of trust and courage where someone is getting in touch with the text and first tentative contributions are shared. 

In all these groups I have the privilege to continuously learn, am bestowed with surprises every session and can experience personal changes and growth, mine included  

“Shared Reading fits into my culture and community perfectly well” 

What I think is particularly special about Shared Reading  

In Shared Reading sessions group members are invited to a safe and open space. They find themselves in a surrounding sparkling with kindness, respect, attentiveness, humour, adventure AND great literature.  

They can experience that there’s no right or wrong, there’s space for silence, for feelings, for questions (internal and outside), knowing others are interested in their feelings and thoughts; and are really listening without judging them. 

To be offered great literature week by week without having to choose as a group member, without having to prepare anything is also very special. We all have our personal horizons.  

With the Reader Leader bringing stories, poems, plays which people would not choose by themselves, group members are invited to new space and broaden their horzions week by week. 

It’s also very special that in the course of time group dynamics change and that the Reader Leader’s kindness, attentiveness, interest, respect, openness are transferred to the group, apparently by itself. 

A moment or experience that has really stood out me  

Once a group member told us, initiated by the story we read, about her painful relationship with her son, who committed suicide at the age of 24. The group listened quietly, touched, and thanked her after she had stopped.  

After the session she came to me and said: ‘Thank you for this special time. I take a huge treasure home with me tonight. I feel so relieved that I did talk about this and that I was courageous to do so’.  

From my experience each session offers moments which stand out: people coming to a group for the first time, group members reading aloud for the first time, sharing personal moments from their lives, not interrupting other group members, feeling comfortable with longer moments of silence, boldly sharing their thoughts on a poem leaving behind their fear or aversion of a special text or poetry. 

How Shared Reading has positively impacted my life 

Meeting new people in intense Shared Reading situations now for eight years offers me lots of opportunities to continuously train, modesty, kindness, openness and keep a close eye on my resources and energy. 

I would say to someone else who’s interested in exploring how Shared Reading can be brought to their country or community... 

Get in contact with me. Let’s talk about it. Let’s try a mixture of your questions, and my enthusiastic AND challenging experiences. Shared Reading is such a great and complex subject, that I don’t think I should start and stop here with just 50 words. 

 

Thanks to Reader Leaders like Kerstin, 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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