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Reading Rooms – a Reading Revolution in Northern Ireland

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 23rd January 2014

reading roomsThe Reading Revolution is taking off in Northern Ireland, with the appearance of Reading Rooms across the city of Derry-Londonderry. The Reader Organisation teamed up with Verbal Arts Centre (VAC) in May last year, when they commissioned us to assist in bringing shared reading to the city in the form of the Reading Rooms project. The project has proved to be a real success with people of all ages enjoying shared reading  around the city in a variety of settings, from schools to residential care facilities, coffee shops to community centres. As part of the project, TRO-approved training has been offered for local volunteers to lead their own shared reading groups, establishing and embedding a culture of reading in the city with a legacy that lasts beyond the City of Culture 2013 celebrations.

Our Quality Practice Manager Kate McDonnell has been working closely with VAC on the project, and gives us an insight into what's happening in Northern Ireland:

"We’ve trained a Verbal member of staff – Catherine McGrotty – as a Reader-In-Residence, and 34 volunteers have attended Read To Lead training. Between them they run shared reading sessions in a wide variety of settings, including care homes, community centres, day centres, prisons and schools. I have been over to Northern Ireland six times so far and Catherine and I have also been meeting weekly by Skype for mentoring sessions and it’s been fantastic to see how the project has developed and blossomed. So far, 357 people have participated in the groups in Derry and VAC expect that figure to have reached 400 by the end of the project’s first year, with activity spreading to Belfast very soon."

Here is an update from Catherine herself:

"Magiligan Prison held its first Reading Room on January 14th with six participants. The second meeting on the 21st had almost doubled to ten participants on sheer word of mouth alone. Feedback from the participants has been (typically) heartening already – with one participant asking me if I’d ‘…ever heard of a story by Anton Chekhov called The Bet? It would be very good for lads in prison…’ Needless to say I know what I’m bringing next week.

I will also be travelling to Belfast once a week starting mid-February to look at the creation of a new Reading Room there in partnership with the 174 Trust. There is more training in the pipeline (for some new Belfast volunteers and for more care home volunteers) in March – so we’ll be bringing The Reader Organisation's excellent trainers back over again for that.

We’re also excited to welcome Kate back in February for a top up Masterclass with some of the volunteers she trained last year. So keen were they to see her again, the Masterclass was half full before we even sent out the letters advertising it! Kate will also be visiting seven of the groups for Quality purposes.

I’m delighted at how glad our regular groups are to have us back. ‘As if Christmas wasn’t bad enough,’ said Jack, one of my care home group members. It’s strange how the short break has allowed us to come back and stop feeling quite so ‘new’ and a little bit more like our reading group has become embedded – something they look forward to once a week. It’s lovely to watch them settle down with a cup of tea and get their reading glasses on and get ready to get stuck in – they know how it works now and they’re ready for it.

When we’re not taking groups we’re busy promoting and evangelising about TRO’s shared reading model. I’ve been busy holding taster sessions for the staff of the Public Health Agency, some movers and shakers from Age NI and anyone who’ll sit still long enough for me to read to them! I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t immediately respond to the simplicity, power and beauty of the idea – especially when they get the chance to experience it first-hand."

You can see Catherine, some of her volunteers and the people they read with here:

For more information about our partnership with Verbal Arts Centre and the Reading Rooms project, visit our website:

To learn about how you can get involved with Reading Rooms in Derry-Londonderry, please contact Catherine McGrotty at Verbal Arts Centre: or call 028 71 272507

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