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How reading groups are offering a different kind of medicine


In the run up to and during Healthy City Week 2016, we’ll be showcasing innovative ideas and highlighting key topics to explore wellbeing that doesn’t cost the earth.

In this blog, Fiona Magee from The Reader shares her thoughts on how reading can improve wellbeing and build resilience in communities.

Healthy City Week is in full flow and I’m here to tell you about the work The Reader is doing in Bristol as part of this fantastic initiative. Here at The Reader, we aim to create a national Shared Reading network with community-led delivery at its heart and Bristol is a big part of this vision. Since 2008, The Reader has pioneered the use of Shared Reading to improve well-being, reduce social isolation and build resilience in diverse communities across the UK and beyond. We inspire and support people to read great literature aloud together. This simple idea changes lives and builds communities. Groups we work with include looked-after children, people in recovery from substance mis-use, prisoners, individuals living with dementia, people with mental and physical health conditions and many more.

You may think The Reader is all about reading, but it is really all about health.

Dr Jack Czauderna, Chair, Pioneer Health Foundation

In Shared Reading, a story or poem is read aloud; group members participate how they wish; sharing their thoughts; reading aloud or simply listening. The Reader Leader facilitates discussion, creating a safe, creative space where members feel valued, encouraged and listened to. The group connects people to great literature and to each other. It is a live experience that makes literature accessible, irrespective of people’s background, ability or literacy levels. It’s simple, yet powerful. It is non-medical, yet improves health. The literature itself is an integral ingredient, offering another voice and a lens through which people can view themselves and their world; often helping them realise the changes in their lives that they want to make.

Partnerships and people are at the centre of this model. Through training and ongoing support, we’ll put Shared Reading into the hands of those who are closest to, and understand best, the need – whether it be a care home worker, local library staff member, community champion or volunteer.

Imagine if every public library had someone a volunteer running a Shared Reading group every morning, afternoon and evening; imagine Shared Reading clubs running in schools after-school or on Saturday mornings; imagine every dementia care home having a team of Reader Leaders helping to stimulate and engage residents, or Shared Reading groups in inpatient wards.

We want Shared Reading to become so widespread that everyone, whoever they are, wherever they are, can access a group. We want to build a movement of Readers, so that Shared Reading can become part of everyday life.

The reading groups are a different kind of medicine – it’s through them that I’ve found a way back into life.

Daniel, reading group member

As part of Bristol Healthy City Week’s programme of events to promote a healthier lifestyle, The Reader will be hosting an information stall and Shared Reading taster sessions at Bristol Central Library on Thursday 20 October – all day, with taster sessions at: 11am – 12.30pm and 2pm – 3.30pm

We are also hosting a Community Gathering at Henleaze Library on November 2nd (10am-12pm)

So, whether you’re a health practitioner, a potential volunteer or just interested in trying something new and meeting new people, come along to discover Shared Reading and the positive impact it can have for people of all ages and backgrounds.

To find out more about who we are, what we do, and our plans for Bristol, please visit:

Health & Wellbeing, Blog, Healthy City Week
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