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My experience as a Reader Leader Volunteer – by Helena Abbey

What I love about shared reading groups is that everyone is welcome, and everyone is valued, reading sessions are accessible to all and are non-judgemental.

Four adults sat talking at a table. They each have a book in front of them.

If you’re looking for a new volunteering opportunity, then look no further! Leicestershire Shared Reading in partnership with Leicestershire County Council are looking for volunteers to support and lead Shared Reading groups.

Hear from Helena about her experience as a Shared Reader Leader.

Feeling inspired? Get in touch today to find out more about how you can get involved!

I became aware of Leicestershire Shared Reading (LSR) during lockdown, and immediately felt a connection with its aim to “run shared reading groups which engage people (especially those who are older or isolated) with great literature at a deep and personal level, enabling them to form social connections, improving their mental wellbeing, and providing stability and support.”

Whether I could help in achieving that aim was another matter ….  I joined lots of different groups to get a feel for the experience and I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed it. I was hooked. I must have attended 7 sessions in 2 weeks and was committed to the idea of running a group myself. LSR happily accepted my application, and I was signed up for the training course, run by The Reader, a long-established national charity that is “building a Reading Revolution, bringing people together and books to life in order to make warmer, healthier, stronger communities.

I found the course inspiring and couldn’t wait to get stuck in. I’d forgotten how pleasurable it is to read aloud and I hadn’t properly looked at a poem since leaving school over 40 years ago but best of all this was about sharing the experience, not doing it in isolation and not trying to be a literary critic.

The pandemic obviously meant I couldn’t meet with a group of people face to face, but LSR had already established several Virtual Groups in Leicestershire and I was enthusiastically welcomed to join the team of Reader Leader volunteers. An added bonus was I managed to persuade my 85 year old house-bound mother to grapple with the technology and she now has a host of new friends that she joins online each week.

What I love about shared reading groups is that everyone is welcome, and everyone is valued, reading sessions are accessible to all and are non-judgemental. The story or poem is always kept at the centre of the discussion, which enables the group to get the most out of it. What’s important is people’s personal response, it is not literary criticism, there are no right or wrong ways to respond, it is what someone feels in the moment and as a group we can explore shared meanings together. As a Reader Leader I can be bold in the choice of material – we read stories and poems that have something to say, even if they are challenging or uncomfortable. I know it’s been a good session when I come away both exhausted and exhilarated.

Happily the social distancing rules are being relaxed and I am now meeting with a group face to face as well as continuing with a Virtual group via Zoom, I won’t pretend it isn’t hard work, researching and preparing material every week, but the sense of reward is more than worth it. If you’re interested in being a Reader Leader or just want to join in the shared experience of reading and/or listening you’ll find more information on the Leicestershire Shared Reading website – I can highly recommend it.