Polly Wright and Mandy Ross of the Hearth Centre are accredited Get into Reading facilitators. See www.getintoreading.org.uk.
The Reading for Well Being method draws on the Get into Reading model promoted by the Reader Organisation, but includes creative writing as a key approach encouraging engagement with the text, and developing personal reflection.Hearth’s Reading for Well Being method:
- A group is set up in an NHS acute or community context, which is open access and inclusive
- The facilitator selects a short story or poem of literary value which they think will be appropriate for the group
- The facilitator attempts to match the subject matter of the material with the backgrounds of group members, in terms of diversity
- The facilitator reads aloud and intersperses reading with reflection and group discussion
- If appropriate, the facilitator uses creative writing methods to increase engagement in the activity and extend personal reflection
- The method ensures safety for the group. The participants can discuss difficult issues in a distanced manner, focusing on the text
- In the long term, as the confidence and the trust of the group develops, the facilitator can introduce the reading of whole novels – which can extend over months.
- The novel is locked away each week to ensure that the group shares the experience of reading together.
- In the long term, the members of the group experience a sense of belonging and achievement
- The group can become a support group – with a difference!
In 2009, Hearth was granted a contract with the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust to:
- Deliver reading groups to the acute and community sectors within the Trust
- Train a cohort of 40 NHS staff
- Raise awareness in the Trust of the Reading for Well Being agenda
- Disseminate project outcomes within the Trust
Achievements of the BSMHFT contract
- 5 successful reading groups in acute mental health settings
- 51 patients have attended at least one session
- 25 patients are attending regularly
- About 23 staff have attended at least one session
- 20 members of staff are attending the first 6 session Reading for Well Being training course, which sets out to equip them to facilitate reading groups in their work contexts
- New approaches are being developed in the Mother and Baby group in the acute sector, where the mothers are learning techniques of reading aloud to their babies. Working closely with the OT, the facilitator ensures that the mothers also benefit in terms of personal development, by also including material which is suitable for adults- or some stories which appeal on both levels- such as fairy tales
- In one group in an acute hospital, creative writing work is being collected for an anthology
- Hearth is building on contacts with the local Tindal Street Press. www.tindalstreet.co.uk. After reading some extracts from Great Expectations one group selected to read TSP’s Booker Long-listed Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold, which imagines the experience of Dickens’ disastrous marriage, from the point of view of his abandoned wife. Before Christmas, the group invited Gaynor, who lives locally, to come to speak to them, in what turned out to be a very successful occasion
Reading for Well Being in the community and Local Authorities
Hearth aims to extend the work into community settings. The Reading for Well being methods are also highly effective with groups in a variety of contexts, including:
- Employment and occupational schemes
- Community and special interest groups such as carers
- GP surgeries
- People who experience chronic illness
- Evening classes for the general public
The positive evaluations of the first stage of the BSMHFT contract indicate that Reading for Well Being outcomes could achieve aspects of well being for National Indicator sets as part of Local Area Agreements.