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Reading and Wellbeing: The SHA 6

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 7th May 2013

From Mary Weston, Mental Health Northwest Projects Manager

Eight months ago, we received a commission from the Northwest Strategic Health Authority to set up 6 Reader in Residency projects in 6 mental health trusts, from Cumbria to Cheshire. It was a challenge in terms of time as well as distance, requiring us to recruit and train 5 project workers, schedule planning meetings with busy managers and ward staff, set up 24 reading groups to reach 400 service users, and deliver 6 presentations of our 3-day facilitator training – all before the end of the financial year!

MRL_5280Did we make it? Yes…well, almost! A couple of the courses had to be put back until April, to make sure that as many staff and volunteers as possible could make it. But we ran 25 groups, involving 444 members, and came away in awe of the emotional intelligence and enduring commitment of the staff we worked with.

The evaluation outcomes also astonished us. Given that the intention of the project was to improve service user experience by reducing boredom and offering meaningful activity, certain statistics stand out:

  • 84% of group members agreed with the statement ‘Reading has improved my mood’
  • 98% agreed ‘It has given me a chance to take part in interesting discussions’
  • 100% said they had enjoyed the stories and poems.

Many stories emerged from our work, and I’d like to share one of them. One of our Reader in Residences, Michael McGrath, writes of a session that took place in a unit for people with learning disabilities:

"Sometimes it’s not the quantity but the quality of a Get Into Reading group that counts. Family visits and illness meant that there was only one member available to read this particular week. J, who has attended every group, is a keen reader and it’s always a pleasure to share a story with him.

This week we read an extract from Dickens’s Great Expectations that introduces the reader to Miss Havisham and her self-imposed seclusion at Satis House. I asked J what he made of Miss Havisham and why he thought she lived her life in that way. ‘She could be scared’, was his response. I agreed with him and asked why he thought that was the case. ‘Because she’s stuck in the past; she still wears the same clothes and doesn’t want to move on.’

I asked J to imagine he were Pip and standing before Miss Havisham. ‘What advice would you give her?’ I asked. ‘To move forward slowly’. I thought this was a really insightful comment, and perhaps one that mirrors J’s own experience. We ended the group with J asking if he could keep his copy of the extract so he could read it again in his own time. It was with this request that I realised how much the group had meant to him."

Want to discover more about how shared reading can create Healthy People and Connected Communities? Come along to The Reader Organisation's National Conference on Thursday 16th May at The British Library Conference Centre, London.

Our morning session is dedicated to how shared reading can go hand-in-hand in health, and we'll also be discussing how we can find A New Language for Mental Health with guest speakers including Professor Louis Appleby, National Clinical Director for Offender Health and Chair of the National Suicide Prevention Advisory Group, University of Manchester and Alan Yates, former Chief Executive of Mersey Care NHS Trust .

Visit our website for the full conference programme and information on how to book your place.                                                                                        

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