Verbal Arts Centre’s Reading Rooms – Beyond the Walls is a Spirit of 2012 funded project aimed at working with young ex-offenders aged 18-30 years who have become disconnected from their communities and social support structures and are experiencing mental health problems compounded by loneliness and social isolation.
Reading Rooms have been present in prisons since 2013. In December 2014, the project delivered a taster session to young men and women in Hydebank College. Following the success of the taster, Reading Rooms has been delivering to young men not engaged in any other educational activity. In November 2016, the Reading Rooms embarked on a pilot programme at Maghaberry Prison, in partnership with Barnardo’s Parenting Matters project.
The programme creates a safe space where participants can engage in group conversation facilitated through the shared reading of high quality and thematically targeted literature. This process enables the young participants to forge new connections between their peers and promotes dialogue and reflection within the group about playing a positive and constructive role in the community within the context of their mental health needs.
A group of ten young people from this group will also undertake training and mentoring in order to become qualified Reading Room facilitators. They will then themselves run weekly Reading Room sessions in the wider community, spanning different generations and demographic groups.
Verbal Arts Centre’s Chief Executive, James Kerr: “Reading Rooms is privileged to engage with some of the most marginalised and vulnerable young people in our community, whose voices often go unheard and ignored. The chance to work with Spirit and become a part of the larger Spirit family has the potential to make a genuinely transformational impact.”
Beyond, two young participants of the Beyond the Walls programme share their thoughts and experiences on how Reading Rooms has helped them.