Southmead Shared Reading

About the project:

Shared reading is a project led by our delivery partner, The Reader.

Shared reading is an opportunity for people to meet and to read aloud together, discussing how the writing has made them feel or any memories it has recalled. There are groups set up across Bristol, usually hosted in local libraries. The Southmead group was set up by a volunteer called Thelma.

The week we visited, the group were reading a short story called ‘In the Woods’ by French author Guy Maupassant and an anonymous poem called ‘Fond Memories’. Thelma had picked the extracts to focus on the theme of nature and memories and the group had the opportunity to discuss their own memories and experiences of nature.


Thelma’s experience of running a shared reading group:

Thelma is a mature student studying for a BA in English Literature and Community Engagement and as a part of her course; she was instructed to set up a shared reading group in her area.

 “At first I was horrendously nervous about it and thought I wouldn’t be able to do it or that people wouldn’t enjoy it but in actual fact it just took off and it’s gone from strength to strength.”

Once the compulsory part of her course ended, she decided to continue running the group because of how important it had become to so many of the people who attended. Thelma finds running the group to be a rewarding experience as she can see how different people become more confident in their reading and interact more with others in the group.

Thelma believes that the group is a success because it is unlike other reading groups or book groups. “It’s very low commitment so no pressure,” She says. “You don’t have to read a whole novel to attend and people are free to talk about their memories.” The group has a diverse mix of ages (over 50) and backgrounds. “It doesn’t matter where you come from; it’s about the enjoyment of reading together.”


Group case study: Comments from the participants

Participants had heard about the sessions in different ways, from traditional word of mouth to seeing it advertised on Facebook. One member of the group said he saw a notice about the group at the library and had spoken to the librarians about it.

Participants were drawn to the group for the relaxed social element and for the opportunity to meet new people. One participant described shared reading as being “the vehicle to get involved.” Another participant said, “Many of the stories we read we can relate to and it brings back memories that we can talk about and you learn how much in common you have with the rest of the group. That’s what I like best, getting to know you all.”

The group felt they had benefited from the sessions. One woman said that she had read a lot as a young woman but had stopped in later life, since attending the shared reading sessions she has started reading again.

Another participant said he had rarely read before attending the group. In one of the sessions they looked at poetry from the First Word War and a few weeks later when he saw another collection of war poetry in the charity shop he decided to give it a go by himself.

One woman who attends regularly has started giving the extracts they have read at the sessions to her daughter who works in a care home. The extracts go even further this way because the participant’s daughter reads them out to residents in the homes she works at. She commented, “The reading isn’t just helping us, its helping others too who can’t get out as much.”


Learning and impact:

Getting the group off the ground was the main difficulty for the shared reading group in Southmead. It took people a while to discover this activity as it is not something people are looking out for and it is not like anything else going on in the area, as far as we know. This was overcome by Thelma not giving up and turning up each week, regardless, until people discovered the group for themselves.

One thing that Thelma has learnt about running the group is, “It’s important to make people feel welcome, make them comfortable and part of the group, even if they don’t want to participate at the beginning. It’s the fact that they’re turning up that’s important.”

Another key point that Thelma made was that she is “one of the group,” although she brings the refreshments and the text, she is led by what the group are interested in reading and lets the conversation move around the text to topics that people are interested in discussing. The fact that there is no pressure and expectation on members of the group is a part of its’ successes.





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