Mandy is Clubs and Dementia Services Manager of Age UK Horsham District. Age UK runs four groups across Horsham District, three of which meet monthly and one weekly. Four Age UK Horsham District volunteers are also currently training to become one-on-one volunteers with Reading Friends.

How did you get involved in Reading Friends?

I first put in the bid for Age UK Horsham District to become a Reading Friends project in the test-phase. At that time, we were one of six projects and worked in partnership with West Sussex libraries.

We have had such positive feedback from the sessions. The Reading Friends group is a pillar of what we do. It’s one of our most successful projects, with a very loyal attendance. I’ve noticed the effect outside of Reading Friends. People get together outside of the group. Two have discovered a love of jigsaws. They sit and do the jigsaws together. Other friendships have developed at times when Reading Friends isn’t on. They will sit and have lunch together.

What is it about reading that brings people together?

For us it’s the breadth of tools around reading that Karen (Reading Friends co-ordinator of Age UK Horsham District) has used. Scripts for plays, Sherlock Holmes, pantomimes… this group really enjoys poetry. One lady who was really a non-reader at the start now goes into second-hand bookshops to buy poetry books. She struggled at school but now has confidence to read within a safe space. One lady enjoys writing her own poems, so we make sure there are five minutes at the end of a session for to read her poems.

How has Reading Friends in Horsham District progressed?

Since the success of our pilot project, we’ve started running a group that meets in a very small village called Slinfold. We anticipated starting small, but they now have 16 regular members! Some of them are from another very rural village, and Reading Friends has allowed the two villages to come together. This group consists of largely retired professionals – people who have travelled a lot. They have good lifestyles, but it reminds us that social isolation has no regard for your bank balance. It runs across every section of modern life.

We also have a monthly Reading Friends group in a retired living complex in Steyning. Five attend regularly; as well as them five others come and sit on the periphery. The wardens are working on bringing them into the group. It’s an interesting dynamic!

How do you know Reading Friends works?

The members now run the group in Horsham themselves when Karen isn’t here. Elsie, who features in the film, will take the group. They’re very comfortable with and supportive of one another. Initially we were concerned about the people in the group with more complex needs. But the group didn’t want to be split up. It’s quite a mixed bag of people; everybody feels part of the group.

When we run the programme, we ensure that we’re sensitive to the needs of our projects. Our Dementia club was very involved initially, but advanced dementia means some members can’t attend.

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