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Working with Phoenix Futures

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 24th September 2014

england_logoThis month, The Reader Organisation is getting an exciting new partnership underway - unlike any other we have embarked on before.

We've been commissioned by Phoenix Futures, a leading provider of services for people with drug and alcohol problems across the UK, to set up a shared reading project which will improve the health, wellbeing and emotional experience of those involved. Following the successful delivery of a group at Phoenix Futures in Wirral since 2005, this project will be rolling out the benefits of shared reading nationwide. Over twelve months we will pilot the development of a culture of shared reading across the organisation's work with service users, staff and volunteers, based on a jointly held value that every person who is dependent on drugs and alcohol has the ability and the potential to rebuild their life.

"I feel the reading group has had a massive positive effect in the process of my recovery. I look forward to every Tuesday as it gives me an hour to sit back and relax in a good short story and takes my mind off problems I may have going on at that time."

We have recruited a Reader-in-Residence especially for the project - Tom Young, Phoenix Futures Project Manager for The Reader Organisation, gives us a little more information:

"The groups will be open to service users, their families and Phoenix Futures staff, with the aim of improving not only health and wellbeing but communication across these groups. The first two groups have been confirmed in their Trafford services – one with adults recovering from addiction and another with young people. These will both begin towards the end of September. The project will eventually expand into Phoenix’s services in other regions, including Lancashire, Sheffield and Barnsley. In addition to the reading groups, we will be training staff and service users in our core literary learning programmes (Read to Lead; A Little, Aloud; and Stories for You and Yours). A second strand of training will be the Workplace Wellbeing workshops – a series of bespoke sessions with Phoenix Futures staff, each addressing a particular area of need. The commission differs somewhat from many of our previous projects in its emphasis on achieving organisational change, in addition to the work with service users. I have been working on the project since the beginning of August.”

Our various shared reading projects in the sphere of health and wellbeing have proved to have deeply profound personal, social and educational impacts upon those who take part. Of particular importance is the relaxed, informal atmosphere that is created at every session - which can offer a respite and take people away from the problems they may be experiencing elsewhere in life - and the fact that reading aloud doesn't excude anybody, no matter what their abilities. Not only does our shared reading activity promote recovery, it also builds supportive communities and improves quality of life.

We have worked with people in detox and recovery in a wide range of healthcare settings, as well as through Phoenix Futures in Wirral, with powerful and transformative results:

"I needed something, somewhere I felt comfortable to escape to, to start meeting people, away from home and other distractions and this fell into my lap just when I needed it. [The group] has not only re-kindled my love of reading but it has provided me with a forum for my thoughts which until this, I internalised. It has connected me with people as I had distanced myself from everyone through drinking and the anxiety following stopping. The books, stories and poetry, whilst not necessarily dealing with my own problems directly, raise issues similar to my own which I have found myself addressing vicariously, assisted by the thoughts, suggestions and ideas of other group members. It has brought structure to my life, something that disappeared because job loss and drinking. Discussions, raised on points from the story or poem, often range far from the subject matter but are just as important for me as they encourage me to think and interact on all levels. Without the reading group, I don’t feel that my recovery would have been possible. Listening to someone tell a story, read a play or recite a poem holds my attention for far longer than anything else can, giving me food for good thoughts and distracting my attention away from my issues and addiction triggers." - shared reading group member and facilitator

"The reading group at Phoenix House has changed my ideas about what reading is. I’ve noticed that this is the case with many of the community, here; it’s got people interested in literature, especially now that we have a library. People are not embarrassed to say ‘I’ve read a poem’. The reading group is the most participatory of all the groups that provide our ‘structure’. In many of these we feel a bit talked at, but in the reading group we are invited to discuss, to express opinions, and there are no boundaries. People can be involved in whatever way they are comfortable." - shared reading group member, Phoenix House Bidston

Having built the foundations, we're very much looking forward to getting shared reading up and running and woven into the fabric of Phoenix Futures.

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