Poetry in Motion with The Reader

Nature4Health, Reading with Nature, Calderstones Park, Liverpool

‘I love reading, I always have’, says Raymond, an 83 year-old living Simonsfield Care Home in Liverpool. Raymond, like many other people attending ‘Reading with Nature’ has dementia.  He finds many day-to -day tasks challenging and frustrating because of his illness.  Nonetheless, he stands before a small group and performs a moving recital of a poem called ‘The Seashell’ with the accuracy, pace and timing of a professional actor. ‘It just came to me easily, and I knew what it meant, I was quite happy with it.  In fact, I loved it!’

Raymond reciting poetry to the group.

The group, comprised of residents and staff from nearby care homes, as well as a number of dedicated volunteers is called ‘Reading for Nature’, a poetry group for people with dementia run by The Mersey Forest as part of their Nature 4 Health programme in partnership with The Reader.

The Reader is a national organisation which uses the concept of Shared Readingto change lives, reduce social isolation and build stronger communities. Working with the Mersey Forest on ‘Reading for Nature’ creates an obvious opportunity for the two agencies to collaborate on their shared objective of improving peoples’ well-being.

Discussing their surroundings with Katie from The Reader

 Stephen Ward from the Mersey Forest said, ‘This is part of our 3 year, Big-Lottery Funded Nature4Health programme.  We’re looking to get communities across the spectrum more active and gaining the passive benefits of being in the outdoors and in contact with nature as a way of improving their well-being’.

Katie Clark from the Reader explained that the park itself was an ideal setting for sharing poems about nature which then prompts discussion amongst the group. As communication can be a challenge for people living with dementia the words, thoughts and images created by the poems and the natural surroundings can prompt memories, emotions and sometimes, as in Raymond’s case, simply a connection in the resonance of the poetic language itself.

Diane 82, who has Parkinsons, found herself a little shy at the start of the group but grew in confidence through the session; ‘There are some situations where you wouldn’t normally open your mouth’, she says, ‘but I feel comfortable here.  I try and make sense of the words.  It’s certainly food for thought and I’m looking forward to coming again’.

Volunteer Joan with Daphne

 Volunteer Catherine Sinclair from Liverpool used to bring her mother Margaret to the group.  ‘My mother used to read quite a lot but her memory was affected and so to see her read out poems that she knew from school age gave me and her an enormous amount of pleasure.  And I think it’s so important for people to still be able to enjoy things when they are suffering from this progressive, insidious disease.  Some people may not be able to articulate but they do engage in conversations and if a person’s speech is affected you can often see their eyes light up.’

 Care home staff fill out their evaluation forms –feedback is crucial to the success of the project

Rachel Duffy, who has been a volunteer with The Reader since 2014, says as she gains a lot from the feeling of connection with other people.  ‘Not everyone is what you might have thought of as a ‘poetry person’, and maybe they don’t say much about the poem but they enjoy reading them together.  Even people who don’t express any thoughts or feelings seem to like the peace and satisfaction of reading together.    Even if their communication is little disjointed and they suddenly say ‘Did you come in the car?’ or ‘how old are you?’.   You’re just creating a little bond with them or putting something a bit different into their minds, or perhaps giving them the words for something they are no longer able to express themselves’.

It was clear that this was a refreshing and enlightening experience for so many of the participants today.  A real privilege to be part of.

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