New reading friends for older people supported by £2.1 million grant

An exciting new UK-wide project will use reading to empower, engage and connect isolated older people, including people with dementia and their carers thanks to a £2.1 million grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

The innovative project, led by The Reading Agency, will use a unique befriending model and work with partners to provide those who are vulnerable and at risk of isolation with opportunities to engage in shared reading activities.

Reading Friends will work with people drawn from the local community, or partner organisations, who are passionate about reading and befriending older people. They will use resources supplied by The Reading Agency to provide reading activities such as one-to-one and group social reading, book chats, themed and reader curated book lists, book gifting and author events.

There is evidence that for older people and those living with dementia, reading has a positive impact on wellbeing and can help to build new cognitive pathways in the brain [1]. Research also shows that 8-10 per cent of people aged over 65 feel lonely [2] and nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of people with dementia who live on their own are lonely [3].

Reading Friends will provide a supportive and dynamic social network that connects older people with friends, family and wider community networks through reading to keep people mentally active, culturally engaged and socially connected as part of a wider reading community.

The project will be delivered with the support of the Society of Chief Librarians and a wide range of partner organisations in England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland, including leading charities, social enterprises and community activism organisations so that it can reach communities that need the benefits of reading most.

Joe Ferns, UK Knowledge and Portfolio Director at the Big Lottery Fund said: “Reading, whether one-to-one or in a group, can have a positive impact and improve the quality of life for older people and those living with dementia. This exciting project puts people in charge of their lives and builds on the passion of volunteers in their local communities. It will also give people the chance to broaden their horizons and create lasting friendships.”

Debbie Hicks, Creative Director at The Reading Agency said: “We’re delighted to be working with the Big Lottery Fund, key partner organisations and older people to deliver this exciting new reading befriending model that will empower, engage and connect isolated older people across the UK. Reading Friends will deliver a new shared reading model, powered by social activism, to keep isolated older people connected as part of a wider reading community. We can’t wait to get started.”

The Reading Agency was awarded £50,000 by the Big Lottery Fund in July 2015 to research and develop proposals for the new reading scheme, where the project tested different incentives and approaches to get and keep older people reading.

Nada Savitch from Innovations in Dementia, who has been supporting the co-production of the project with older people, carers and people with dementia, said: “One of the most exciting aspects of this project is the way people are valued for who they are and their interest in reading, rather than being given a label such as having dementia or being a carer.”

The Reading Agency will start planning and development work in the autumn for the UK pilot phase of the project, planned for July next year. The project will be initially delivered in England, Scotland and Wales. Discussions with partners in Northern Ireland, regarding how the project will be rolled out, are ongoing.

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