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The Hidden Powers of Art: The Reader & NHS Mersey Care

Written by Emma Walsh, 16th June 2016

The Reader's work with NHS Mersey Care Trust was recently featured in a documentary created by Danish Broadcasting Corporation, watch the clip here and read more about the project:

Earlier this year, The Reader featured in a documentary series called The Hidden Powers of Art broadcasted on Danish, Swedish and Norwegian TV. The series explored the impact of arts interventions on health and recovery, featuring The Reader's work with NHS Mersey Care.

The creators of the documentary from Danish Broadcasting Corporation visited Liverpool last year, attending several Mersey Care Shared Reading groups run by Reader in Residence Selina McNay in both community and in-patient settings. The documentary features footage from those groups, exploring the purpose and importance of Shared Reading with group members, group leaders and The Reader founder Jane Davis.

NHS Mersey Care and The Reader

Commissioned in 2007, this was The Reader's first large-scale project in a mental health trust. Two Reader Leaders worked closely with psychiatrists, occupational therapists and other trust staff to set up and run reading groups in wards and community settings. As staff were trained and gained confidence in using the unique Shared Reading model they took over the facilitation of the groups, enabling the Readers to start up groups in other services.

In the first year of the project, 12 groups were established; currently there are 30, covering the Trust footprint, and operating in all service areas.  There are Shared Reading groups in acute wards and Community Mental Health Teams, High, Medium and Low Secure services, drug and alcohol rehab, older peoples’ services including organic (dementia) settings, and specialisms like Brain Injury, the STAR unit (learning disability inpatient) and Psychiatric Intensive Care.

"[Shared Reading] is one of the most significant developments to have taken place in mental health practice in the last ten years." - Dr David Fearnley, Medical Director, Mersey Care NHS Trust

Other staff catch our enthusiasm. It’s like laughter in the way that it’s contagious; we come out of the group buzzing, the buzz comes out with us, and the other staff catch some of that.” - Rachel, Mersey Care NHS Trust

Case Study: Reading on Star Unit, Mossley Hill Hospital

We read a poem called Born yesterday by Philip Larkin and going over the lines again, that say: ‘May you be ordinary; have, like other women, an average of talents'. We talked about what this meant and what our talents might be. At first 'A' said, "I haven't got any", and ‘K’ said, "I'm good at meeting people and going out, talking to people".

When I went back to ‘A’, I asked her what she thought she might be good at, and this time she answered, "karaoke, I'm quite good at that". This was quite a breakthrough moment as she is always so reticent, never really opening up much unless really prompted. This was a moment of deep connection with the text and also with the other person in the group; through the poem we had discovered something that those individuals had never considered they had – a way of seeing themselves as people with gifts and talents, shared interests and things that give them pleasure.

‘A’ has since been discharged from Mossley Hill Hospital to continue her recovery in sheltered housing. Before leaving the Star Unit we spoke about her reading journey with me, which had lasted over two years. She said she was sad it was ending; that she had enjoyed our groups.

When I suggested the possibility of continuing at our Central Library group she was very happy; although it would mean some bus travel and early starts. For these reasons I wasn’t sure that she would make it to the group, but the very next week – and each week since then – ‘A’ has arrived with her support worker to continue reading. I have watched her confidence grow week by week and the interaction with other group members has been something new and important for her.

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