Reading Friends is our UK-wide programme, developed with funding from the National Lottery Community Fund and the Department of Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS), which connects people by starting conversations through reading.
Our mission at The Reading Agency is to tackle life's big challenges, such as loneliness and isolation, through the proven power of reading. Reading Friends gives opportunities for people to meet others, share their stories, make new friends and have fun, especially people who are vulnerable, isolated or at risk of loneliness. It creates social connections and takes a person-centred approach, building on interests and hobbies of the people involved to share stories. Delivered by volunteers and co-produced with our participants, Reading Friends meet regularly to chat and share stories in groups or one-to-one sessions.
The programme has been running since June 2017 and has seen The Reading Agency work in partnership with a range of organisations in local communities to test different approaches to delivery, gradually expanding across the UK. Most recently during Covid-19, government funding from DCMS meant we were able to expand across over 100 library authorities in England running distance delivery models of Reading Friends over the phone and virtually, when people were not able to meet in person.
Please note that some Reading Friends projects have temporarily suspended as they were taking place in hospitals or prisons.
The Reading Agency work in collaboration with our partners Literature Wales and Verbal in Northern Ireland.
Why Reading Friends matters
• Loneliness and social isolation is a significant health and wellbeing issue for older people. 8-10% of people aged 65 and older are often or always lonely, while 12% feel socially isolated1
• Research shows that reading together can help older people to build social networks and connect with others. Evidence also shows that reading has a positive impact on empathy, cognitive function and wellbeing and can reduce the risk of dementia2
• Age UK's research shows that maintaining meaningful engagement with the world around you is key to wellbeing. Taking part in activities that support wellbeing is most difficult for people who are lonely and isolated or in poor health3
• It also finds that creative and cultural participation makes the highest contribution to an older person's wellbeing4
• By May 2020, 41% of UK adults reported feeling lonelier since lockdown, and 1 in 3 had not had a meaningful conversation in the last week.5
• By November 2020, 39% of UK adults said they have not had a meaningful conversation with someone in a fortnight, a third worry something will happen to them and no one will notice, and 2 in 5 people said loneliness is having a negative impact on their mental health. 6
If you are interested in starting Reading Friends, volunteering or joining a group, please sign up now. In the meantime, take a look at our Stay Connected! resources which give plenty of tips, activities, ideas and links to support you during this time
1. Oxfordshire Age UK (2012) Loneliness - the state we're in p.13↩
2. BOP Consulting for The Reading Agency (2015) Literature Review: the impact of reading for pleasure and empowerment]↩
3. Hughes et al (2010) Engagement in reading and hobbies and risk of incident dementia: The MoVIES project OECD ↩
4. Age UK, Green et al (2017) Age UK's Index of Wellbeing in Later Life↩
5. British Red Cross (2020) Life after lockdown: Tackling loneliness among those left behind↩
6.British Red Cross (2020) Lonely and Left Behind: Tackling Loneliness at a Time of Crisis↩