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The Big Give: Helping people like Betty

Written by The Reader, 22nd November 2016

Ahead of the Big Give Christmas Challenge we visited Betty and her Reader Volunteer Julie to find out what Shared Reading can mean to the older people we want to help this Christmas.

Betty is 95 years old. She lives on the fifth floor in older people's supported accommodation in Wirral. She receives oxygen treatment for up to 14 hours a day and needs a wheelchair to go out.

"God's good to me, I take each day as it comes."


Sitting in her cosy living room, Betty is surrounded by family photos. Her nephews and extended family visit her regularly and as well as the carers who call twice a day to support her, prepare her evening meal and chat about the latest goings-on in the building.

Betty also has Julie, a volunteer from The Reader who visits every Tuesday morning to read with her.

"I'm fond of reading" Betty says, "but never really thought about poetry before. When I saw the advert on the board downstairs in the lounge and was introduced to Julie and we had a nice little Shared Reading group, I enjoyed it."

When she was in her 80s, Betty began volunteering at a local primary school, reading with children one to one, listening to them and helping them when they got stuck. She really enjoyed the two years she spent reading with the children, and was sad when it came to an end. Now Julie visits Betty to read with her every Tuesday morning.

Julie was running a Shared Reading group in the lounge of Betty's building and it proved a popular activity for residents. Julie says that Betty was a 'lynchpin' in the group and her absence was heavily felt when she went into hospital for a prolonged period.

By the time Betty returned to her home the project supporting the group had come to and end but Julie was keen to continue volunteering and offered to keep reading with Betty and one of her neighbours. They would meet to read in Betty's flat and although her neighbour has since passed away, Julie continues to visit Betty to read together every week.

"I was actually at the launch of The Reader. I worked for a charity managing a mental health service and did some work with them. When I retired I was looking for something to do, voluntary work. I enjoy literature and reading and poetry and The Reader just seemed the natural place for me to volunteer.

I've been reading with Betty for three or four years now, as long as I've been volunteering with The Reader."

Julie, Reader Volunteer

Although she has other visitors throughout the week, for Betty, Julie's visits are important because they offer something different:

"It really brightens my day, because I sit here and do my puzzles, I don't see anybody some days, so when Julie comes on a Tuesday morning, it brightens my week.

We do something different, the poems and the stories we read are different each time and we have such a good discussion about them. It's a one-to-one discussion - why we enjoyed it, what we think its all about , you really get to the bottom of it. It gives me something to think about, something extra to think about, and I really, truly enjoy it."


The reading sessions have meant a lot to Julie too. She and Betty recall several stories they've read together, most recently a ghost story by HG Wells, "I didn't have nightmares after all!" Betty assures her.

"I read quite a lot" Julie says, "but one of the things I've really enjoyed about reading with Betty is the reading aloud - it's very different. I can remember things we've read together so clearly, things we both read as children like The Railway Children or Little Women but reading it together out loud, we talked an awful lot about it. Reading aloud makes it slower, we understand it more rather than just whizzing through the book."

"And we have a laugh, don't we?" Betty adds with a smile.

"It's been such a nice thing for me too, coming to read with someone who's so positive about life. Betty's 95 and even on days when she's not feeling well or feels a little down, she always says how lucky she is.

I'm retired, I guess I'm an older person too, but I hope I can be as positive as Betty is when I'm her age! It's nice to see that its doesn't have to be all doom and gloom as you're older."


Get in touch and be part of the story....

You can support our work with older people through the Big Give Christmas Challenge. Our supporters will match fund up to £20,000 in public donations made online during the 72 hour Christmas Challenge which runs from 12noon on Tuesday 29 November until 12noon on Friday 2 December. 

Please give what you can when donations open on Tuesday 29 November and share Betty and Julie's story to help us spread the news and raise £40,000 to help more older people like Betty.



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