Reading Rooms at the Dementia IdeasLab 2015

The Verbal Arts Centre’s Reading Rooms was one of only nine projects selected from a number of countries to address the Dementia IdeasLab 2015 held in Belfast earlier this week 

Picture for blog story Reading Rooms at the Dementia IdeasLab 2015

Martina Blake, Reading Rooms’ regional co-ordinator, presented a short video outlining the pioneering work being done through the project to engage with people living with dementia in the Derry and Belfast areas.

Reading Rooms was one of just two Northern Ireland organisations to make presentations at the Dementia Festival event, the other groups being from England, Scotland, the Republic, Italy and USA.

The expert panel at the Stormont Hotel included Professor June Andrews and Mark Butler, from the Dementia Services Development Centre, an international centre of knowledge and expertise dedicated to improving the lives of people with dementia which is based at the University of Stirling.

Speaking about Reading Rooms’ valuable input to the Dementia IdeasLab, Martina said: “We are very unique in that we are volunteer-led and community-based. We stood out because we are delivering at community level.”

While the event was focused on working with dementia groups, Martina said the Reading Rooms’ presentation highlighted its programmes which are engaging with children, older people and “all life stages in between”.

Reading Rooms have also been invited to attend a conference on dementia diagnosis and support in NI organised by the Alzheimer’s Society at Kelly’s Inn in Co Tyrone, on March 12th.

The Verbal Arts Centre created Reading Rooms as part of the UK City of Culture programmein 2013. There are currently around 20 Reading Rooms spreading the joys of reading and literary discussion across a wide range of community settings in Derry and Belfast.

Reading Rooms are being delivered in local schools, community groups, youth clubs, day centres, mental health organisations and with prisoner groups.

Martina Blake explained: “The project is delivered using a shared reading format facilitated by trained volunteers. Quality literature is used as a catalyst to engage people with literature and start conversations about their experiences, opinions, engagement with self  feelings and relating the story to personal stories, finally engaging with the group and having the confidence to speak and share, have conversations and different opinions. There is no right or wrong in the Reading Room, it is about taking time out to reflect, relax and build confidence, make friends and feel valued”.

According to the regional co-ordinator, there are very exciting possibilities for rolling out the project across Northern Ireland and beyond. Reading Rooms are already delivering their programme for people with dementia in both the Western and Northern Health Trusts and, the South Eastern Trust have also expressed interest in introducing it in their day centres.

Martina said the project wanted to reach across as broad a range of community settings as possible, engaging especially with people “at the margins” of society. She stressed thatReading Rooms are “about reading, enjoyment, socialisation and relaxation” in a “non-threatening and non-stigmatising” environment.

There are two open Reading Rooms that people can drop into once a week – Eason’s inFoyleside at 7pm each Thursday; and Eason’s in Donegall Place, Belfast at 11am every Wednesday. Admission is free and everyone is welcome.

Stressing the aim of making the Reading Rooms’ experience as relaxed and enjoyable as possible, aiding participants’ health and well-being, Martina explained: “It is not a Book Club so if you haven’t been before it doesn’t matter. The whole idea is that you can drop by and meet new people. It is a shared reading project and is open to everyone.”

If you would like more information on Reading Rooms and the Volunteer Training Programme please contact Sinead Devine on: Telephone: 028 71 266 946 or

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