Reading Rooms, Karen Usher

In 2017 Hull was UK City of Culture and thousands of wonderful events took place. The programme sought to involving the whole city in multifarious events – both as spectators and as participants.

Reading Rooms was a legacy project started by DerryLondonDerry – the previous UK City of Culture. It was run by Hull Libraries and as a newly retired librarian fulfilled my craving to involve people with books. The premise is that we read a story or extract to a group of people. We break the stories into chunks and invite the participants to talk about the stories and incidents in their lives that the stories remind them of. So, its Talking Rooms too! We finish each session with a short poem that matches the theme of the story in some way. We ask the group if any of them would like to read the poem after we have discussed it.

To become a member of the Reading Rooms team one attended two and a half days of training – involving safeguarding as well how to actually do a session – lots of practice of the latter before a filmed try out with analysis of our performance. Glad to say I passed!!

Over the last two and a half years I have done a weekly RR with another volunteer (we always try to do RR in two’s) at an independent living facility in Hull (another whole blog!), a six week session at a special school and covered for holiday absences at two locked care homes. There is an enormous amount of joy mixed with a small but not insignificant amount of pain in doing Reading Rooms.

You make friends with total strangers who open their lives to you. Participants in my regular group are aged between 25 and 92 years old. Some have lived in Hull their whole lives with occasional trip to Bridlington! Others have seen the world. Almost all are now on their own and many have health problems. We have seen our numbers fluctuate as members have gone to more secure accommodation or their health means they can’t attend the sessions. I am most pleased that some of our regulars who never used to speak now join in the ‘conversation’.

I have been told off for being late – usually I arrive early but being just-in-time was ‘late’! I took cupcakes on my birthday and the following week was given a present 😊 There has been a lot of laughter – one story about a fashion shoot in an Italian seaside town I read in a faux Italian accent and I brought the house down helped by the risqué actions of a villager who didn’t like the ‘photoshoot’ and dropped his trousers in protest, and then there was ‘Albert and the Lion’ in a Yorkshire accent – well possibly a Yorkshire accent!

The stories and poems are picked by the Hull Library team who organise RR. Sometime we all don’t like the story, sometimes the poem is a little too opaque for participants but they keep coming back. 

After the session we often chat about what has been going on – visits from llamas, donkeys, dogs and birds of prey happen on a regular basis. The facility has a large and beautiful garden. There are concerts and demonstrations and participatory events.

The librarian in me is sated and my horizons expanded by their fascinating life experiences and I will keep going as long as they keep turning up.

Reading Rooms is supported by Hull Libraries and The James Reckitt Fund. Reading Rooms takes place in Care Homes, Independent Living Facilities, Schools, with Home Educated groups, Hospices and in a variety of departments of The Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

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