Maybe you enjoy books. Maybe they transport you to another world, absorb you, inspire, uplift or entertain you. I know that for many people, sometimes, books can boost wellbeing more than anything else – more even than art and craft, music or nature, the themes this blog more usually highlights. So Shared Reading, an initiative I heard about recently, sound s agreat possibility.
Shared Reading is run by The Reader, which focuses on “the power of literature and reading aloud to transform lives”. Their work sounds so very positive and helpful. From their headquarters in Liverpool, The Reader oversees a network of small Shared Reading groups across the country, in different locations, as well as online alternatives. Each group is run by a volunteer, who will read aloud a book, poem or short story. Attendees can do some of the reading aloud themselves, or they can contribute to conversations about what they hear – or they can simply enjoy listening and taking it all in. It sounds very flexible, which is obviously important when people are all so different. I’ve read feedback from people who have attended, saying how Shared Reading has really enhanced their lives, easing isolation and boosting their confidence.
The initiative is supported by various funding bodies, such as the National Lottery Communities Fund and Arts Council England, which clearly recognise its strong impact on participants. I heard about Shared Reading through Prescribe Arts, a new online arts & health platform. As social prescribing grows, demand for groups like these will only grow too.
Storytelling has a long heritage as an oral tradition. Communities would gather to invent, share and pass on stories or ballads, sometimes down through the generations. Before the printing press, and when fewer people could read or write, telling stories was largely unconnected to the written word. People gathered to tell or to listen, so that stories became an opportunity to connect, to bond, to react together. It was built around community. Very different to the more private, individual activity that reading has mainly become.
While many people like book clubs, these groups seem different as the actual reading is done together, in a group, aloud – whereas most book clubs gather to talk about a book already read.
In a sense, then, reading aloud returns storytelling to its roots. It enables participants to share. Some people who might rarely think to read alone, or who don’t easily settle to concentrate on a book may find they absorb a story more when they hear it spoken or if they read aloud themselves. Some find reading too passive and receptive, but reading aloud makes it productive, as you enable the story to come to life. Moreover, when isolation is known to be so damaging to wellbeing, reading with others becomes a great way to spend time in a group, sharing an interest so it feels natural and unforced. Reading aloud groups could be helpful for people with partial or total sight loss, who miss reading for themselves. And people who have dyslexia may enjoy an opportunity to experience books without struggling to read them.
If you’d like to learn more about Shared Reading, go to www.thereader.org And it would be great if you would like to share any thoughts or experiences in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.