Reading Rooms showcase conference

The Verbal Arts Centre is looking forward to celebrating and sharing experiences of its award-winning Reading Rooms project at a one-day conference in Belfast tomorrow.

Picture for blog story Reading Rooms showcase conference

The showcase event, which is being held at NICVA, will provide an opportunity for delegates to hear how Reading Rooms has impacted on a range of groups who have participated in the shared reading project since it was established in 2013.

The main speakers include Alison McCaughan from the NI Prison Service; Damian Coyle, Vice-Chair, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which is Verbal’s core funder; Wendy Osborne, CEO, Volunteer Now; and James Kerr, Chief Executive, Verbal Arts Centre.

Conference delegates will hear from panels engaged in Reading Rooms with children and youth at risk or in care, with health and well-being groups, and with older people including those with dementia.

The panellists include Sheena Wilkinson, one of Ireland’s most acclaimed writers for young people; Danny Bryce, Time Out Programme Manager, Extern; Chris Donnelly, Vice Principal, Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School, Belfast which has an established Reading Rooms programme entitled ‘Dads and Lads’; Rachel Duffy, Children and Youth Officer for Reading Rooms; and Kay Carlin, Volunteer.

Other panellists are Jayne McStay, Community Development Manager, NOW Group; Susanne Stich, Literary Guide, Reading Rooms; and David Florida James, Volunteer.

The panel dealing with Reading Rooms for older people include Amanda Leitch, Healthcare Consultant; Jan Carson, author; Maeve O’Lynn, Project Officer, Belfast Reading Rooms; and Kate Ingram, Volunteer.

Reading Rooms is a shared reading programme delivered through the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry~Londonderry by trained volunteer facilitators, using stories and poems to engage some of the most marginalised people in our local communities.

These range from children and young people in care, at risk or excluded from formal education, to adults living with life-limiting or long-term physical health issues; from those with disabilities or mental health problems, to older people in the care system and men within the prison system.

There is no other literature-based intervention of this type, making the Reading Rooms model unique to Northern Ireland. There are currently more than fifty Reading Rooms groups and the equivalent number of trained volunteers operating in a variety of settings in Belfast, Derry, Limavady, Strabane, Omagh, Cookstown and Enniskillen, with further plans for expansion in the coming months.

The recent provision of a Reading Rooms bus, funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), has enabled the project to go mobile and reach even more people in towns and cities across Northern Ireland.

The Verbal Arts Centre was recently presented with two DCAL awards for Reading Rooms, winning the Community Impact Award for positive impact of a programme/project involving a community or community group, and overall winner of Best Learning Project which effectively promoted equality or tackled poverty or social exclusion.

Speaking ahead of Thursday’s conference, James Kerr, Chief Executive of the Verbal Arts Centre, said the team were delighted with the growth of Reading Rooms which began during Derry~Londonderry’s year as UK City of Culture 2013.

He continued: “Two years on, we are effectively delivering on the legacy and have expanded Reading Rooms across Northern Ireland. This summer we went mobile with our Reading Rooms bus, creating a new safe space to talk, to listen, to enjoy and to share experiences through shared reading and reading aloud.”

Paying tribute to the Reading Rooms partnerships with health, well-being and care organisations across Northern Ireland, Mr Kerr said: “This conference will showcase these partnerships and our work together. It has been an incredible journey to date and we hope to make our first showcase conference an annual event.”

During the conference, attendees will have an opportunity to engage in a Reading Room for themselves, and will be encouraged to share their favourite book, story, poem or author as well as sharing their thoughts, ideas and pictures via social media.


Further information is available from the Verbal Arts Centre, Stable Lane and Mall Wall, Bishop Street Within, Derry~Londonderry, BT48 6PU. Tel: 02871 266946.

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