The Reader - A shared experience

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Jacky Pemberton spoke to Write Out Loud about her volunteer experiences sharing poetry with The Reader organisation:

Two years ago, Chris Lynn visited Write Out Loud at the Old Courts in Wigan. He read one of my favourite poems, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, slowly, beautifully, savouring each syllable. When he had finished reading he announced that he had a wonderful job reading great literature to people in the community. He was also looking for volunteers to undertake a training course and then visit Care Homes in the Wigan area. We would be working with older people who were often in the advance stages of dementia.

This was my first encounter with The Reader charity.  Originally part of the University of Liverpool, The Reader became a registered charity in 2008. It now delivers over 300 Shared Reading groups across the UK every week, mainly in community spaces such as libraries, community centres and in care settings such as hospitals and care homes. The Reader also works with partner organisations in Australia, Belgium and Denmark.

‘Our mission is to make Shared Reading part of everyday life so that everyone, wherever they are can benefit from improved wellbeing, reduced social isolation and a stronger community’ .  The Little Book of Reader Values – Jane Davis.

I have always loved literature and sharing poetry and as a volunteer befriender for Age UK I’d had some experience of working with older people. I chatted to Chris in the interval and arranged an informal ‘interview’ with him the following week.  At first, I was slightly concerned that the voluntary work might be too time consuming. I retired from teaching a few years ago and as well as having a few health problems; I like to visit my family who live all over the globe. However, the Reader has a good support network and wherever possible you are placed with a Reader partner who shares the running of the Reader sessions.

The one-week training course was excellent, friendly and good fun. The resources and knowledge the professional staff gave us over the sessions equipped us well for when we met our own groups. Placements are organised in an area suitable to your needs and travel expenses are reimbursed.

I have since volunteered in two different Care Homes in the Wigan area. Each week I prepare a couple of poems and sometimes bring in audio/ visual aids to try to bring the poem alive for the group. It isn’t easy work and sometimes I have been close to tears when I see the struggles people who have dementia, and those who care for them, experience.

There are times when there’s very little response to the poetry and some residents may sleep all through the sessions. But I believe The Reader can and does touch lives and makes a difference. There are moments of sadness but also those of great joy. One eighty-year old lady, who had not spoken to me before, listened as I read Wordsworth’s The Rainbow. We were talking about special moments in life. Cradling her arms, she responded, ‘The most beautiful moment in your life is when you hold your new-born in your arms for the first time.’

Yes, there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and The Reader brings to light such beautiful moments.

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Greg Freeman

Wed 9th May 2018 08:09

Thanks for this inspiring account, Jacky. Not many of us would have the same patience, bravery and heart of you and your fellow volunteers to do this kind of thing, I reckon. Well done to you all. Good to hear that sharing some of the best poetry we know can help folk struggling to make sense of the world. And nice that you got to hear about it at Write Out Loud Wigan ... !

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Andy N

Tue 8th May 2018 20:55

great article - enjoyed reading (:

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