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The Reader launches new services to keep people talking and reading together through lockdown

Written by Rachael Norris, 11th May 2020

National charity, The Reader, is adapting its work to help communities find connection and meaning by delivering reading activities online and over the telephone during lockdown.  

Under the banner ‘The Reader at Home’, the new services aim to spread the connection, comfort and fellow feeling offered by great literature at a time when many people are looking for wellbeing support, distraction and meaning.   

Along with a public programme of recommended reads, video readings, online events and telephone and web-based Shared Reading services, the new offer includes ‘Life Lines’ –carefully curated activity packs designed to help other  organisations, such as care homes, VCSEs and health organisations, support the people they work with. 

The Reader usually brings thousands of people together every week in Shared Reading groups that take place in community spaces, prisons, hospitals, libraries and on high streets across the UK.  

The groups – the majority of which are led by a movement of volunteers – read great novels, poems and short stories aloud, and talk about them. Research has shown that sharing works of literature in the company of others in this way helps people to connect at a deeper level, improving wellbeing, reducing isolation and strengthening communities. 

Since lockdown beganThe Reader has temporarily suspended all its regular Shared Reading activities in line with government guidance. The programme of remote support launched today fills the gap that this has created, while also offering regular, varied opportunities for more people to enjoy and experience literature’s life-supporting benefits together. It includes:  

  • Online Shared Reading groups via Zoom  live reading groups led by Reader staff and volunteers, free and open to all who want to experience the joy of Shared Reading with others from their own homes. 
  • Recommended reads – specially curated lockdown reading resources to read, watch and listen online at leisure, including a new digital collection - Bread & Roses - which was launched with a reading by The Reader’s patron, actress Claire Skinner. 
  • Digital Shared Reading – take a break with a daily video reading or a live reading on Facebook. The weekly schedule of live events includes Storybarn Live! which is aimed at young children and their families, and schools.  
  • Life Lines – read-aloud activity packs, including texts and prompts, for charities, prisons, NHS partners and community organisations who want to bring the comfort and connection of reading to the people that they support.    
  • Shared Reading on the phone – enjoy being read to one-to-one with our telephone reading service – we bring the text, all you have to do is listen. 
  • Online support sessions for Reader volunteers – regular online meet-ups to keep the Shared Reading community across the UK, and beyond, connected. 

Many of The Reader’s network of 1,000 volunteers are working with the charity’s staff to deliver the wide-ranging programme of activity.  

Shropshire GP, Helen Willows, leads a Shared Reading group that normally meets in a community centre every Monday.  The group is made up of 8 people of different ages, the oldest member being 93. 

Helen said: “Last week, having waited for the 93 year old to be set up with a laptop, we met up online to read a short poem together, and we ended up reading and talking for over an hour. 

“There was great excitement at being able to speak to each other 'in person' as many of the group hadn’t been in touch with each other since lockdown began. The 93 year old phoned her son the following day to say how wonderful it had been: 'as good as going out’.”  

Another volunteer, Dirk Uitterdijk, who runs a Shared Reading group on the Wirral has been reading with his group members over the phone during lockdown.  He said: “Doing Shared Reading over the phone has meant that the group has actually grown over the last few weeks and there are now 16 of us. For people who found it difficult to get to our regular sessions, reading together over the phone is the perfect solution.  

“Shared Reading has given all of us a reason to be in regular contact while also enquiring about each other’s wellbeing during this challenging and often isolating time. There is still life with a capital ‘L’ to be found during these coronavirus days.” 

Jane Davis, founder and director at The Reader, said: “As we entered lockdown it became clear that there were three pressing needs arising from communities; the need for food; wellbeing support and for social connection.  

 “Taking our lead from the early female unionists of the US, who recognised that life was not only about basic breadline necessities but also about the ineffable beauty of the world – ‘give us bread but give us roses’ – we have reacted quickly to evolve our work where we can in response to the national emergency.  

“Today’s announcement highlights how The Reader is working to bring ‘roses’ to as many communities as possible in the form of human company, connection and the enjoyment of literature – whether online or over the phone.  

We are also continuing to explore how our organisational home at Calderstones can be used to bring ‘bread’ to those in need in the local community. Thanks to emergency funding from the Steve Morgan Foundation, Liverpool CVS and local ward councilors, and new ways of partnership working with local VCSE organisations, over 1600 meals have been prepared in the kitchens of the Mansion House and sent out to vulnerable and isolated people in recent weeks. 

Details of the virtual and remote support available from The Reader is available on a dedicated webpage - The Reader at Home – which was built by Leeds-based digital agency, Stickyeyesas a pro-bono project. More information is also available over the telephone by calling 0151 729 2250.  

The Reader is supported by public funding from Arts Council England, The National Lottery Community Fund and players of People’s Postcode Lottery. 

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