“In the shared reading group, I read about others but I learn about myself.”
The Reader is an award-winning charitable social enterprise, connecting people through the reading of great literature. We exist to bring books off the shelves and into life, creating environments in which people read together, share their personal feelings and experiences and form vital bonds.
In our weekly shared reading groups, running across the UK in a variety of settings including health and community centres, libraries, schools, prisons, hospitals and care homes, people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life meet to share classic and contemporary stories and poems being read aloud. The groups are informal and relaxed, with everything that is read happening live within the group by qualified leaders. Members can take a turn to read if they wish but there is no pressure to do so – simply listening to the literature being read is enough to evoke emotional response. This makes every group entirely accessible, with no preparation needed beforehand. Whether a voracious bookworm, those who have fell out of the habit or otherwise haven’t picked up a book since school, shared reading groups offer the chance to get involved and to rediscover literature in a new way.
Literature reveals very human truths and it is these deep thoughts and emotions that are dug out at every shared reading group that takes place. By looking deeper and exploring together, new perspectives are hit upon and members often find things they weren’t expecting – both in the stories read and within themselves. Group members have reported getting greater pleasure from books and poems through shared reading and are more likely to share what they read with friends and family. The social connections brought out through the literature also re-engages and revitalises; members forge new and often meaningful relationships, gain in self-confidence, improve their sense of wellbeing and positivity and widen their horizons.
Reading for the pleasure of doing so has encouraged our group members to strive further and keep going forward, in many cases having an impact that lasts beyond the hour and a half spent reading each week. For some, it means getting a good night’s sleep for the first time in weeks or travelling further than their street for the first time in years. Others have improved their literacy skills and abilities through regularly engaging with literature, and feeling confident enough to take on books they might never have considered or even heard of before.
C came to read with us at a community centre in Plymouth, having left school with few qualifications. She has dyslexia and was initially nervous about reading when she joined the group at the start of reading Jane Eyre. After staying out of reading for a while, one day she offered to read a verse of the poem that was being shared in the group. Within a few weeks, she was volunteering to read quite complex passages from the book and her reading became more fluent. Despite both physical and mental health issues, C became a regular attendee who used her enjoyment of the poetry read in a new way to enhance her life.
N is one of our readers in a criminal justice probation setting in Manchester, and has attended the reading group since the first week it started. During his time in the group his confidence has increased and he contributes regularly to discussion, sharing stories about his own life through the material that is read within the sessions. As well as having a particular enjoyment for language, N shows a keen interest in ‘bettering’ himself. Along with the education programme in the prison, the shared reading has encouraged him to learn, saying that the stories read have taught him to communicate better and make fewer judgments about those he comes into contact with.
Some of our group members have progressed so far in their experiences with reading that they have felt empowered to take on new challenges, using the new-found confidence they have gained from sharing literature to explore the wider world. A number have gone on to train and volunteer with us in projects around the country, taking the step from group member to group leader and giving the opportunity for others to benefit from the experience of shared reading.
Mavis started attending one of our shared reading groups in North Wales shortly after losing her husband. Feeling low in confidence and still coming to terms with the emotional upheaval in her life, she found a sense of calm and companionship in the group, finding that she was able to share her opinions about the literature being read and discovering ‘new horizons’ opening up for her.
After months spent reading within the group and gaining in self-confidence, she decided to register her interest in training to be a volunteer group leader as part of our wider North Wales project. She successfully completed the foundation course – taking what she describes as ‘a leap of faith’ – and is now keen to help other people discover more of themselves through reading.
Jane came to one of our groups in London during a challenging time in her life, experiencing health difficulties and needing to leave her career of over twenty years. The shared reading group she attended not only renewed her love of reading but helped her to rebuild her confidence, encouraging her gradually to take chances she never had before. After two years attending the group, she began volunteering at a story and rhyming session for children in the same library where the reading group took place and eventually went onto train with us to gain the skills to run her own shared reading group.
Currently, we read with over 2,000 people a week. Each week the connections that are made through shared reading mean that we can help individuals to make changes to how they feel about themselves, in turn contributing to the realisation of potential and impacting on lives for years to come.