Ron, a Second World War veteran who lives in West Sussex, has been introduced to books by Reading Friends - a new scheme that connects people by starting conversations through reading.
Learning new skills in old age
At 92, Ron is discovering the pleasure of books. When a Reading Friends group was set up at his assisted living facility in West Sussex, he was invited to join. "Might as well give it a go," Ron figured. Now he attends twice a week when volunteers come to read books to the group. "The main thing I enjoy is learning things now that I didn't learn when I was young. I'm 92, it's been a while since I went to school and I didn't learn much anyway."
Reading for pleasure was not part of the curriculum at the school Ron attended in his youth. It was the Second World War and the schools were severely overcrowded. "All the kids from Liverpool and places that were being bombed were sent up. There were so many of us. At some point we were split into a morning session and an afternoon session." At 14, Ron decided to leave. "I didn't get much reading done. The last year of my school years I mainly did some gardening."
Enjoying the benefits of reading together
A busy career in the Navy and then as an engineer kept Ron from picking up a book for most of his life. Now he cannot read independently anymore because his eyesight is deteriorating. Still, through the reading group he is enjoying books regardless. He particularly likes it when they read books about the Army. "Reading together like that makes you happy." He laughs and adds, "But only if it's a happy book of course."
Retrieving memories through books
Heather Rogers, who organises the reading group, says it can be especially nice to revisit familiar books. "It allows you to retrieve things you might have forgotten about. Or bring back memories, from reading them for yourself or to your children a long time ago." Some participants struggle with reading by themselves because they are partially sighted, like Ron, or because their physical strength is waning. "Everyone's enjoying it", Heather says. "I have a lady who was a really avid reader but now she's struggling to read a book herself. Just holding a book is tough, because it's heavy. Her sight is struggling. So she is part of the reading group now, so she can still engage with books."
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