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‘The Reader gave everything I’d lost back to me’ – Brenda’s Story

Written by Martin Gallagher, 1st May 2019

In February 2019 we spoke to Brenda, a Volunteer Reader Leader and Shared Reading group member. Calderstones has been a huge part of her life in so many ways, this is her Reader Story.

“I’ve been coming here since I was eight years old,” she explains. “I played here as a child when there were rowing boats on the lake you could hire. I even went to the theatre at the old Mansion House.”

She had a professional career and has been a lifelong volunteer – lending her business aptitude to organisations helping support local people. She and her husband were something of an institution, fundraising and leading a local health initiative together.

“I’d always lived with somebody – I’d lived at home with my parents, then got married. Suddenly there was no one – in some ways no purpose,” she says.

“I’d just seen a noticeboard about The Reader and thought ‘I wonder what that’s all about?’. When I went inside they said ‘there’s a group about to start – would you like to join in? You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to come back if you don’t like it.’

“The Reader Leader was just so welcoming. The warmth was out of this world. So I did the group and loved it. Then I started going to other groups as well.

“It was Charles Dickens’ Domby and Son that really made me think ‘this is my husband. I understand this man – I’ve lived with this man’.

“I was getting rid of all that anger through that book. And everyone put up with me. It got me through a horrendous period. The Reader gave everything I’d lost back to me. Everybody here does magic. It saved me.”

After reading one-to-one with older and younger people, and covering the odd Shared Reading group, something changed.

“One day about two years ago, someone had left, so there was no one to run our group anymore. So someone at The Reader asked ‘how about you takeover?’.”

“I’m just an ordinary bod in the group,’ I thought. I haven’t had any training. Would I be able to gain their trust and respect? But I felt like I’d got so much from the organisation; I really wanted to give something back.”

Her fellow group members said they’d let her do it on two conditions - that she must not be pressurised and could stop anytime, and that she could still have a cup of tea with the group. She laughs, “It is social, this thing, we all want to go to the café afterwards and carry on talking.

“I’ve always realised it was more than a book club. At a book club, you talk about your kids and holidays, and only spend 10 minutes speaking about the book you’re supposed to have read. In Shared Reading – we stop – until we’ve sorted out what’s going on. You’re getting so much more out of the text.

“It was only when someone noticed I was hogging the photocopier copying short stories and poems that they suggested ‘you want to start a book’. And a light went on – it’s so much easier, you don’t have to find something new every week!”

“I’ve learned such a valuable lesson about watching people as they’re being read to – to pick up on reactions. You can see the enthusiasm – that they’re excited about what’s going on, arguing about the characters and their personalities.”

“I enjoy matching poems to books – but it can be hard. But then, even if you can’t see something in the poem – somebody can match it, they’ll say ‘oh I can see why you’ve chosen this one!’.”

“Whenever we take a break they say ‘Can we carry on with the book?’”.

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