In the latest Life in Lockdown interview, we speak to Michelle Barrett from The Reader, a charity working with communities across the Liverpool City Region and nationally, based in Calderstones Park, South Liverpool.
What sort of work do you/your organisation normally do in the community?
Across the UK – and around the world – we bring thousands of people together on a weekly basis in Shared Reading groups where they talk, laugh and share great literature. By ‘great’, we mean those books, stories and poems that have the power to touch all of us and illuminate what connects us. It’s literature that can help with inner life, mental health, soul troubles and make us say: ‘I never knew anyone but me felt that!’
More than 1,000 wonderful volunteers help us to deliver these groups in their local areas in places like community centres, libraries, hospitals, care homes and high street cafés. The groups are free to join and open to everyone.
In Liverpool, we also offer a vibrant programme of Shared Reading, wellbeing and creative activities, volunteering opportunities and special events from our headquarters in the Mansion House in Calderstones Park.
How are you staying connected with the community during lockdown?
Our work to reach more people with literature’s life-supporting benefits feels more needed than ever in the current times – research from ONS highlighted how more than 4 out of 10 of us have turned to reading to help deal with lockdown restrictions.
We moved quickly to adapt our usual services so that we could continue to support our existing communities along with others who might be in need.
Under the banner ‘The Reader at Home’, we’re offering a daily programme of recommended reads, video readings, online events – including family reads from the Storybarn – and online Shared Reading services to spread the connection, comfort and fellow feeling offered by great literature.
We’ve also just launched Finding Connection – a telephone service for anyone who’d like to have a chat with one of our friendly volunteers once a week. Find out how to get involved here or by calling 0151 729 2250.
While for organisations working in the community, such as care homes, VCSEs and health organisations, we’re offering ‘Life Lines’ – carefully curated reading activity packs to help support the people they work with. You can contact me direct at email@example.com, or request a pack by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org / or calling 0151 729 2250
If you’re a GP, a health provider, a care home or a VCSE and would like to find out more about how our work could support the people using your services, through referrals or joint-working we’d love to talk.
As well as keeping people connected through Shared Reading, we’ve also been using our resources to bring food to Liverpool communities. Working with partners such as Crisis, Whitechapel Centre and Local Solutions, we’ve delivered over 1600 meals to those in need so far. Every meal is delivered with a poem to help people think outside the immediate situation, nourish the soul and feel connected at what is an anxious time for many people.
Are you taking part in any fun activities to help you through lockdown?
As a team, we’re keeping spirits high during lockdown with Shared Reading every week, during working hours, to encourage a break from emails, plus free yoga and meditation for staff. We also share a weekly update on a Monday, with inspiring stories from the past seven days and social media highlights, to start the week with a smile