Author joins Shared Reading group

node leader
14 January 2016

"I am not really a person who is interested in books and I do not read much, to my surprise I found myself really enjoying the extracts of the book that Nell read to the group. I found myself relating to the character and his exploits..." Peer Mentor, HMP Preston.

Creative recovery supports service users to express themselves, develop skills and build confidence. The Shared Reading project at Phoenix, in partnership with the Reader Organisation, is a programme of workshops where people come together to read and share ideas.

Since the launch of the pilot project in August 2014, 11 shared reading groups were set up across our prison, community and residential services, training 21 staff in shared reading delivery, engaging 80 people in additional learning opportunities and engaging 233 service users. Staff reported that 81% of group members improved in terms of their willingness to discuss their substance misuse issues and 66% improved in terms of their willingness to attend other activities.

Facilitated by the HMP Preston Discover team, Shared Reading is run as a fortnightly group on the recovery wing. The groups are open to people of varying literacy levels, who have all taken part in the group in the form of either reading, or discussing the chosen piece of literature. The feedback has been very positive with group members stating they initially had reservations about the group, and some fears around reading in front of others. However, once the shared reading group was underway, they wanted to actively take part and offer their interpretation of the piece, and some group members had built up enough confidence to read out passages, which in turn had a positive impact on their self-esteem.

 A Peer Mentor from the HMP Preston Recovery Wing shared his experience of when the author, Nell Leyshon, joined the group to share a reading of her new novel Memoirs of a Dipper:

“I identified how different negative elements do contribute to moulding a way of life, negative attitudes and behaviours that I have displayed throughout my life. I also related to an extract of the reading that the character has now become a positive and productive member of society. I really do appreciate Nell attending our recovery unit reader group and for giving the group her attention and time. I would also like to thank the Discover team for the previous reader groups that they have facilitated. I value these groups and feel they are beneficial.”

Leyshon, who had worked in prisons for many years, based the main character, Gary, on a real ‘dipper’ she had met during this time. Leyshon reflected on her visit to the recovery wing:

“My previous prison visit had been to HMP Guy’s Marsh, a rural Dorset prison with elaborate gardens and views of local hills. Preston could not have been more different.

The prisoners were abstinent from drugs and alcohol, and intended to stay clean. I told the men that I had worked with ex-offenders and ex-addicts for 10 years, and that I believed some voices were not heard enough in society. After that we started to talk about the content of the novel, and about our lives. As we talked, the men slowly began to disclose their own experiences, and parallels they saw between their lives and the life described in the book. Our conversation was open and inclusive, and at times extremely profound."

"We talked about the value of creative writing in a prison setting - to get your voice heard, to be challenged creatively and intellectually, to improve literacy skills, and to develop confidence. The same, we agreed, applies to reading in prisons. I left the prison and as I walked back to the station, I felt invigorated by the intelligent conversation and stimulated by the company. Sometimes the best conversations are in the most surprising places.”

Thank you to the team at HMP Preston and to Nell for giving her time to the Shared Reading group.

You can find our more about Shared Reading here.

Phoenix Futures is a registered charity in England and Wales (No 284880) and in Scotland (No SCO39008); Company Limited by Guarantee Number 1626869; Registered Provider of Social Housing with Homes England (H3795).