Shared reading groups improve wellbeing for young and old

Herok have been finding out about ‘The Reader Organisation’ and how they are pioneering the idea of shared reading as a practical way of improving wellbeing, building stronger communities and extending reading pleasure.

shared reading

The Reader Organisation’s ambition is to make shared reading widespread so that you could go to most places in the UK and easily find a group. They currently read with 2,000 people per week across a variety of settings; in the workplace, in prisons, on mental health wards, in care homes, in schools and in local communities.

Bringing people together in weekly groups to listen to poems and stories read aloud, thoughts and experiences are shared; personal and social connections are made. There is no pressure for anyone to read or even speak because simply listening to the literature and the other group members can be a powerful stimulant. The group leader seeks to create an atmosphere of lively collaboration, which is best felt in the literature itself.

For example, the Get Into Reading group at Rubens House, a Jewish Care home in north London, has been running since summer 2012. They have nine regular attendees, all in their eighties and nineties, many of them quite severely disabled. While a few are in the early stages of dementia, most are able and keen to enter into debate about the texts that are shared.

Staff tell us the group has had a very positive effect on members. They talk about it all week. One, whose dementia was thought precluded much understanding, has started reciting poems with great enjoyment between sessions. Even those few members who do not speak very much show by their body language that they are feeling the stories and poems. There are always plenty of people volunteering to read, and some are astonishingly good readers, while others have great difficulty reading a few sentences. Blank looks and even expressions of dislike on a first reading change to nods, smiles, and excited chatter.

Anne Harding, Volunteer Facilitator at Barnet Get Into Reading Project said, ‘I feel very privileged to work with this group. The members are truly inspiring. Some of them say they love the group because it keeps them learning. It keeps me learning too, all the time. I have learnt more about ways to help generate understanding. And I have learnt a lot about some remarkable people.’

Herok are pleased to see that shared reading is making a difference to people of all ages and backgrounds and can see how beneficial the activity can be. It would be great to see ‘The Reader Organisation’ achieve their goal of widespread groups across the UK so that more people could become involved. There may be a shared reading group near you. Click here to see current locations.

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