Mayor’s reception for Reading Rooms awards

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr. Elisha McCallion, has paid glowing tributes to the Verbal Arts Centre’s double award-winning Reading Rooms’ programme.

Picture for blog story Mayor’s reception for Reading Rooms awards

The Mayor hosted a civic reception in the Guildhall in recognition of two prestigious recent awards from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure for the mobile shared reading project that gives participants a voice, reduces isolation and promotes well-being.

The Verbal Arts Centre won the Community Impact Award for positive impact of a programme involving a community or community group, and was overall winner of Best Learning Project which effectively promoted equality or tackled poverty or social exclusion.

Speaking at the celebration attended by staff, volunteers and groups who avail of the innovative programme, Cllr. McCallion said winning both awards was a “great achievement”.

Congratulating all those involved in Reading Rooms’ continuing success story, the Mayor said: “The community and voluntary sector is very close to my heart and, Reading Rooms is a wonderful project that has gone from strength to strength since it began in 2013.”

Andrea Doran, the Verbal Arts Centre’s Director of Programming and Learning, described the Reading Rooms as “magical”, saying it wouldn’t work without the volunteers who give up their time to be involved.

“We have 50 trained volunteers going as far as Cookstown, Magherafelt, Belfast, Omagh, and Strabane. Some of the groups are getting bigger and we now have the Reading Rooms bus which is going everywhere.

“But, it all comes down to the brilliant partnership we have with our volunteers and we couldn’t do it without them,” she said.

When the Mayor said she would have to go along to the Reading Rooms herself, she didn’t have long to wait as she was treated to a poetry reading specially prepared for the occasion.

Andrea O’Donnell, Volunteers Co-ordinator, shared one of Ireland’s most famous poems - ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by WB Yeats – beloved by Reading Rooms’ groups.

The second verse was read aloud by Carita Kerr, volunteer reader with Foyle Disability Resource Centre and Foyle Hospice, who said it had always been her favourite poem.

“I heard it first in school and, I remember the time I was living in England, the last stanza always struck me.”

The third verse was read by Aidan from Extern West Bank Youth Support who have a weekly Reading Room at the Verbal Arts Centre, and were represented at the reception. Reading Rooms’ groups from the cityside and Waterside were also in attendance.

The Reading Rooms uses a relationship centred model of engagement and provides a safe space for participants to have voice, choice and control, sharing experiences with others and provoking conversations.

Extracts from classic literature, contemporary novels and poems are selected in advance by the Verbal Arts Centre’s Literary Guide, Susanne Stich. There are around 50 Reading Rooms across NI in a range of community, public and health care settings. Children are also catered for through the Little Legends club and in schools.

The Mayor presented a framed picture depicting the ‘Let The Dance Begin’ sculpture in Strabane - known affectionately as ‘The Tinnies’ – to Andrea Doran, on behalf of the Verbal Arts Centre.

Cllr. McCallion said the piece by local crafter, Natasha Duddy - inspired by renowned Derry artist Maurice Harron’s public artwork - was among gifts she had commissioned for her term as Mayor, in support of the local craft sector.

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