Standing in front of a small audience, a woman clears her throat and apologises for being nervous, before adding: “If you had told me a year ago that I would be up here today reading to all of you, I would have said ‘no way, no way.’” She then began to read, clearly and confidently, Maya Angelou’s poem ‘Still I Rise’.
This was the first anniversary of the Reading Together Project in south and east London, which provides therapeutic reading groups for people who cannot or do not normally read alone. The reader was one of 60 people with brain injury or mental health issues who has been helped by the project over the past 12 months.
The event was held at Headway East London, a support service based in Haggerston for people who have experienced brain injury, and featured readings by group members and facilitators from across Hackney and Greenwich. Other choice poems included ‘Lady Lazarus’, by Sylvia Plath and ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by Robert Frost.
The celebration was wrapped up by David Neita, billed as the ‘People’s Poet’, who is also a trained barrister and has worked extensively in mental health.
The Reading Together Project was set up by social-enterprise Read Together, which itself was founded in 2009. Its initial funding came from the Big Lottery Fund but it has also received backing from a number of charities.
The Project also counts Hackney Libraries as a key supporter and partner. Co-founder Sophy Proctor said: “Hackney Libraries have been wonderful. The people we are trying to reach are people who don’t normally use libraries, so we have formed a symbiotic relationship with them. They have given us free meeting spaces and provide reading sets and in return we have trained them in therapeutic reading.”
The Project is now in the process of entering into a partnership with Lifeline in Hackney, a drugs support group, and Blind Independence, Greenwich. It has also recently received funding from Team London to help set up groups for elderly people.