Jane’s novel idea to get people reading out loud together

06 November 2018 | North West England

Jane Davis

The Reader charity in Liverpool promotes shared reading.

Jane Davis single-handedly founded a literacy charity that has helped thousands of people all over Britain.

She pioneered the launch of The Reader in Liverpool in 2003, a charity that promotes ‘Shared Reading’ - reading out loud in groups - to improve well-being and reduce social isolation in communities all across the UK.

Remarkably she left school at 16 with just two GCSEs before returning to education as a young single mother. She studied for an English PhD before going on to become a university lecturer at Liverpool University.

Jane set up the first Get Into Reading group for young single mums at a library in Birkenhead, Wirral. She explained: “I didn’t realise there was a literacy problem out there until I went and spoke at a local community centre. I was so in my university bubble that I was shocked to learn that there were people that could not read. I started going back weekly. One day one of the group said, ‘when are you going to bring the good stuff like Shakespeare and Tolstoy?’. I laughed and the next week we were reading Othello.”

From this, The Reader was launched, went on to get grant funding, and became an official charity in 2008.

There are now more than 500 Shared Reading groups across the country, with 200 in the North West alone, and a dedicated team of more than 800 volunteers. It is a fantastic example of people helping people.

The reading groups are free to attend and open to everyone regardless of age, ability or background. Weekly sessions are led by a trained Reader Leader who brings something – a short story, poem, play or novel – to be read aloud and discussed by the group.

By reading with purpose, and sharing thoughts and reflections, many group members find personal meaning in the literature and form strong social connections with others.

“The beauty of shared reading is that you when you read out loud, you read a lot slower than if you were reading in your head,” adds Jane. “You get some much needed headspace - and so much more goes in. It’s like the difference between running and walking.”

Jean Huxley, 67, started attending Shared Reading groups after she split with her husband.

“We used to cycle together every day but after the marriage ended I had to find a new activity and new friends,” she said. “I heard about the Shared Reading groups and went along to the one in Calderstones Park. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. Straight away, I immersed myself in the literature and all my worries melted away. The joy of shared reading is that we can stop and express ourselves in a safe space. It can get quite heated! People can get very involved in the characters.”

Jean now runs a group herself at Calderstone. “It gave so much to me that I wanted to give the same joy back to others.”

Groups take place in a variety of locations including care homes, hospitals, prisons, homeless shelters, libraries, supermarkets, community centres and corporate board rooms.They work with children, people in recovery from substance misuse, prisoners, individuals living with dementia, parents, teachers, people with mental and physical health conditions and many more.

Jane, 63, and now a grandmother who lives on the Wirral, recalls: “I was recently reading at a drug rehabilitation group an amazing poem by John Clare called I Am! The first couple of lines are: ‘I am—yet what I am none cares or knows; My friends forsake me like a memory lost.’

“A woman on the programme, sighed, and said: ‘Yes that’s me…’ out loud. That poem hit her in the stomach. The whole purpose of these groups is that our readers make a personal connection with the words. An emotional connection. That is what it’s all about.”

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