Verbal Arts Centre and Hull Libraries recently ran a series of Reading Rooms session as part of the Hull 2017 Creative Communities Programme.
Reading Rooms is a shared reading programme that gives participants a voice, reduces isolation and anxiety, and promotes wellbeing, delivered in partnership with Hull Culture & Leisure, Hull City of Culture 2017 and Verbal. It originally started in Derry-Londonderry during the 2013 celebration as the first UK City of Culture, with Verbal now passing on the torch to Hull Library Service to deliver Reading Rooms through their year as City of Culture.
Reading Rooms uses a reading aloud and shared reading experience to engage participants encouraging them to open up and share their ideas, thoughts and feelings from their own personal experience relating to the short story and poems being used by volunteer facilitators and RR Staff.
Michelle Alford, Director of Hull Library Service, said: “Reading Rooms is a bold concept that challenges the most vulnerable people to step out of their comfort zone, explore ideas and feelings through the writing of others. In doing so they are able to experience the new, unusual and exciting with expert support to help them manage their response and build their confidence to explore more literature, and other art forms, as a consumer but potentially as creators too.”
The project has caught the attention of the James Reckitt Library Trust, which helps support a diverse range of events taking place across the public library network in Hull, and provides funding to secure the future of libraries in the area. Their recent report, Rethinking public library services in Hull: a framework for transformation and growth, commented that “libraries are not in the book business. The business of librarians is to help people expand their knowledge and understanding of themselves, their lives, and the world about them. Librarians are in the business of knowledge, learning, creativity and imagination.”
Helping to achieve this vision, twenty library staff ‘Library Champions’ will receive training to deliver and facilitate shared reading sessions, followed by an additional twenty volunteer ‘Community Champions’ being recruited to lead shared reading sessions in their communities over the course of the project.
Reading Rooms has also received positive feedback from recent sessions elsewhere in Hull, with the Humberside Independent Care Association groups at Isaac Robinson Court, which supports people with a learning disability and associated care and support needs, and Raleigh Court, a nursing home.
The groups read two stories from one of our all time favourite story collections, Tales of Wisdom and Wonder (Barefoot Books, 1998). In response to ‘The Blind Man and the Hunter’, a story about the mystery and complexity of sensory perception, the group chanted along to the recurring line uttered by its hero, the blind man: ’Because I see with my ears!’
When it came to poetry, everybody was laughing and clapping as one lady at Isaac Robinson Court stood up and performed the poem she had just read for the first time, Roger McGough’s ‘Sound Collector’. The poem then sparked a conversation about favourite sounds and a spell of listening to all the noises in the room.
The Reading Rooms project has been delivered with children, young people and older people since its inception. In expanding its legacy to Hull, the work with Reading Rooms has shown outcomes beyond all expectation and continues to develop and grow.