Reading Friends: how our new programme is coming to life

Reading Friends, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, is being co-produced with older people, including people with dementia, carers and disabled people. Katie Pekacar blogs on what’s involved in developing a new programme.

In June 2016 The Big Lottery Fund awarded The Reading Agency £2.1 million over four years to develop Reading Friends, a new programme designed to reduce loneliness and start conversations with vulnerable and isolated older people through reading.

At the time it seemed almost impossible to imagine that we would be hosting an event in the Library of Birmingham less than one year on, with representatives from six projects ready to launch their reading activities in communities across England, Scotland and Wales. But that is exactly what we did last week – and it has been a busy year to get to that point!

Building relationships

The project has been entirely co-produced with older people, including people with dementia, carers and disabled people. At several points we’ve changed our ideas completely as a result of this process – for example, the design of the leaflet, how we describe the programme and even the format of the programme itself, moving from a reading challenge, to a more inclusive befriending model.

We have also developed important partnerships with Literature Wales and Scottish Book Trust, who will help us develop Reading Friends so that it meets the need in those nations. Our partners also include a number of national charities and the network of public libraries across England, Wales and Scotland, to ensure we’re building on existing work and infrastructure.

Test project get together

So last week we all met up and heard from each of our six test projects about their exciting proposals to adapt and deliver Reading Friends to meet the needs in their area over the next 12 months. Although we can’t do justice to all their plans, here are some short examples:

• In Sheffield, Dementia Action Alliance is working with Sheffield Libraries to start conversations through reading with diverse audiences across the city, including a local Pakistani men’s reading group who are interested in Pakistani heritage and a dementia reading group meeting in an antiques shop

• In Conwy in Wales, Conwy Library Service will be working with isolated older farmers, many of whom have Welsh as their first language

• In Newcastle, Age UK Newcastle and Newcastle Libraries will be working together to bring Reading Friends to an existing befriending service

• Three different organisations across West Sussex – Age UK Horsham, Dementia Support in Chichester and the Abbeyfield Society in Horsted Keynes – will be trialling a networked approach to Reading Friends with West Sussex Libraries, providing the infrastructure support and access to a wide range of digital and assistive technologies

• In Stirling the library service will be looking at how oral storytelling can be used to engage isolated older people, especially those with Gaelic as a first language

• Oldham Library service will be using an asset based model to engage deprived and socially isolated communities in Oldham with designing and delivering Reading Friends so that it meets their needs

The Reading Friends team left the meeting feeling excited by all the brilliant ideas, energy and enthusiasm shown by the test projects. We look forward to continuing the journey of discovering what Reading Friends is and can be, together with all our partners and the communities they engage over the next year.

Get involved

If you want to find out more about Reading Friends email [email protected]

A list of our partner organisations:

Age UK
Alzheimer’s Society
British Psychological Society
Carers Trust
Carers UK
Carnegie Trust UK
Contact the Elderly
DCP Faculty of the Psychology of Older People
Dementia UK
Independent Age
Life Changes Trust
Literature Wales
SCL Wales
Scottish Book Trust
Scottish Library and Information Centre
Share The Vision
Libraries Connected
The Campaign to End Loneliness

The Reading Agency

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