Shared Reading groups create connections at Jewish Care

05 Mar 2020

World Book Day is here, the biggest international day celebrating books. At Jewish Care, books and reading is celebrated throughout the year. There are currently seven shared reading groups that take place weekly across Jewish Care homes and community centres. Led by volunteers, they provide a welcoming, inclusive space for older people to enjoy literature, get to know one another, reflect and explore poetry, books and short stories.

The volunteers are trained by The Reader organisation, a national charity that builds communities and brings people together through shared reading, helping everyone to experience and enjoy great literature.

Jacqui Chody, who worked as a dental hygienist until she retired, began volunteering at Jewish Care nine years ago and started volunteering with The Reader group six years ago. She began assisting at the group at Sam Beckman Centre for people living with dementia, run by Kate Fulton, who has been awarded an BEM for her work as a leader and co- ordinator of Reader groups.

Jacqui says, “I love meeting all the residents and members, there’s so much to learn from them they are very inspirational and it’s very humbling because they have so much to offer. Leading the group introduces me to literature that I haven’t read or heard of and we all share it together. It’s a lovely experience”

Volunteers with The Reader organisation go on a three day course to support them with all aspects of running the group from what to prepare and deliver, how to ask open ended questions so members will participate to waiting for silence so people can process what’s been said and what they want to say.

“I usually bring three poems as well as occasional short stories and we spend about 15 minutes on each poem,” says Jacqui. “Everyone has their own copy in large print and if they want to take the poem away, they can, and they often do. Members of the group will talk about what they like about a poem, what does it make them think about, sometimes it can be a place to reminisce about what they learned at school or moments in their lives. After some time, people become relaxed and feel freer to share their thoughts. It’s also a very sociable activity, where people get the chance to meet people from across the care homes that come along. Our regular members seem to look forward to coming and say how much they love the literature. Some members already have a great interest in reading and others say how lovely it is to be introduced to new types of reading.”

Jacqui, like Kate, also runs a session at Jewish Care’s Michael Sobell Community Centre where they will read short stories or a chapter from books like Jane Austin, Charles Dicken or The Diary of Anne Frank. Jacqui says, “Some members of the group have said that it’s made them go on to read the whole book. We invite the clients to read out loud as well so it’s really a shared reading experience.

Mavis Golding, 92, who worked as a secretary for the youth movement, Habonim for 25 years, is a resident at Jewish Care’s Lady Sarah Cohen House. She attends one of the regular Reader groups and says, “I look forward to the group very much. The volunteers bring the poems and lead it very nicely. I’ve liked poetry very much since I was a small child and it’s very interesting to hear people’s views on different poems as everyone has different ideas. I’m also interested in the form of the poem, whether it’s a sonnet or a limerick."

Paul Polin, also a resident at Jewish Care’s Lady Sarah Cohen House who attends a different group, agrees, “I like to read and discuss the poems, it makes you think and makes your mind work. We discuss the words and feelings of the poet. My favourite poet is Robert Louis Stevenson. You get to know what other people think and hear their opinions, in that way you get to know them too.”

Helen Preddy, Jewish Care’s says, “Through our volunteer’s skills, experience and dedication our shared Reading groups see so many people engaging in reading sessions in different locations across our homes and community centres. The groups provide care home residents and community centre members with a sense of familiarity, connection and community. The volunteers are so committed to delivering a meaningful and enriching experience to everyone involved.

“The impact of a shared reading session goes beyond the in-the-moment enjoyment of the group. The sessions really help to promote wellbeing and there are countless examples of people engaging in sessions in ways that are unexpected.  One of the most common is when people who rarely speak, and are thought of as ‘non-verbal’, demonstrate beautiful fluency and clarity when invited to read aloud to the group.  Seeing these responses means care staff can find new ways to connect with residents and continue to improve the care they provide.”

For those interested in coming along to the Shared Reading groups at Jewish Care’s Michael Sobell Jewish Community Centre, contact mjscc@jcare.org

Jewish Care is always looking for new volunteers to join our team so do contact 020 8922 2288 or volunteersdepartment@jewishcare.org if you would like to find out more.