Helen, a Reading Friends volunteer from Newcastle shares her experiences of taking part in the programme.
Why Reading Friends?
I have always loved reading. In my 20 years as a primary school teacher, I was able to see just how much reading can benefit the lives of children and young people. I grew up in a literate household, and we were always surrounded by books, and I have always loved them.
There was however a brief period that I lost touch with books. My husband’s sudden passing had a tremendous impact on me, and I found that for the first time in my life I was no longer able to read. I struggled to resume a life, but eventually reading became a world that I could retreat into.
As life goes on things change. After retirement, I found myself with less and less to do. I would often take care of my grandsons, but as they grew older that was no longer part of my routine. So I sought new things to do to occupy my time. It was then that I discovered Reading Friends through an email from Newcastle Central Library. I wanted to be able to share my love of reading with others, and Reading Friends allowed me to do this.
What happens in an average Reading Friends session?
Since starting there has been no such thing as an average session. I manage a session with people who experience memory difficulties and we meet every fortnight. I found it interesting to learn about the different reasons that people enjoy reading, and some of our Reading Friends find the fact that we read aloud refreshing. In our sessions we all get a copy of the same text and we chat about what we’ve read. I like finding poems for everyone to read in the sessions, as this is what they enjoy. Through Reading Friends I have been able to meet people with different stories, and I find it fascinating. For example, someone from our memory loss group was a secondary school English teacher. She has short term memory loss but can remember teaching.
What do you think reading can do for people who might feel lonely?
‘If you enjoy reading you can find another world in a book, and the world feels less lonely. ’
I hope that reading can help give people the self-confidence to connect with others. It’s not always easy for people to get out and I hope this process can help them swallow their anxieties.