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Liz’s Story: Volunteering for The Reader Organisation

Written by The Reader, 8th June 2012

One of the most inspiring features of The Reader Organisation's recent national conference at the British Library was the testimonials from Get Into Reading group members and volunteers. For those of you who were unable to attend, we're going to post some of these personal stories on the blog over the next few weeks.

This first testimonial is from Liz, who completed our Read to Lead training with Barnet libraries and is now a volunteer Get Into Reading facilitator at Cheshir Hall in Hendon, Barnet.

I saw how Get Into Reading matched my own past experience of meeting regularly in a friendly environment for a meaningful activity such as a French conversation group and a parenting group. These particularly helped when I was recovering from a serious mental illness. I’d needed structure and social interaction to build confidence and overcome isolation. I saw how Get into Reading also provided that wonderfully.

I find that the literature we read anchors and lifts the group and prevents it from becoming problem centred or simply people’s experiences and opinions, valuable as they are. People go away with something. .. and it can lead to things. A Nigerian lady who’s a retired midwife with grown up children said she is  interested in taking a course in creative writing and literature at the local college. She commented ‘I’ve drawn up a programme for myself so I’ll be here every week.’ Another member has expressed a wish to volunteer for Reading with Blind people. The grandmother I mentioned says ‘it makes her brain work.’

Our regular group of 5-6 has been meeting weekly since the end of October. One person has resumed after a short break for job training. A younger woman, who first came with a case-worker from MIND, began to come alone after a few weeks, and felt comfortable enough to talk about her mental health diagnosis to the group. They were accepting and warm. She told a local journalist, who came to see what we do: ‘Before I came here I felt like an outsider. It’s helped me feel confident in myself and be able to share ideas.’

Another group member related how she had bumped into me on the bus and met another member in the street. A single man in his eighties, who lives in sheltered housing next to the community centre, said ‘It’s a social occasion and an opportunity to meet people, and understanding what makes people tick is what life’s all about.’ An elderly lady comes each week with her daughter and they said early on that they will see each other more regularly because of the group. One week her grand-daughter, who lives with her, came to see what it was all about. The benefit spreads beyond the group itself.  

In January, five of us enjoyed travelling here to this room to watch the Penny Readings – a celebration of Dickens put on by The Reader Organisation. Apart from the powerful and moving readings, we were entertained by magic, clowning and a hilarious compere.

I’ve valued the thorough organisation and structured support of The Reader Organisation along the way.

It has been very supportive working with another facilitator. We have different styles but I respect the way she works and have learnt from things that she has done that have worked well. The regular facilitator support meetings and Masterclasses on relevant topics have been great for discussing difficult issues from our groups, for sharing encouragements and widening our pool of literature resources. They have given us confidence to use a Shakespeare sonnet, introduce Dickens or think how to handle sensitive situations that may arise in our groups as a response to the literature.

Our group has also hosted a number of visitors who work in community settings such as Barnet Library, Barnet College (ESOL) and Barnet MIND, who participated in a session with a view to possible use in their own work settings. We feel that we’re helping it grow.

I wholeheartedly recommend the experience of being a volunteer with TRO – if you are willing to commit the time, to understand and engage with the way TRO works, then it is a hugely rewarding and exciting project.

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