Read Aloud

October 7, 2011


Last night Read Aloud (a project with Edinburgh City Libraries and SPL) won the Get Up and Go Awards category for ‘products or services that make a difference’ to older people in Edinburgh. Huzzah to Lilias, Annie Bell from the Edinburgh City Libraries and all the volunteers! Below, Lilias explains more about the project.

We know how much pleasure people can have from hearing and recognising poems; lines and phrases seem to be hardwired into the brain, and remembered long after other things are difficult to recall. Annie Bell works at Edinburgh libraries, and she wanted to set up some way to bring the pleasure of reading to people who can’t borrow and read books themselves, particularly elderly residents of local carehomes.  So about a year ago, we sat down together and started to figure out what the Scottish Poetry Library and Edinburgh City Libraries would need to begin reading in carehomes.

A few months later, we had the active support and interest of our colleagues, and of three carehomes willing to try a visit once a month for three months.  We had a choice of different kinds of poems about gardens and flowers, and things like flowers and big fat runner bean seeds and some stalks of lavender for people to hold or smell or see. And we arrived at the first carehome, looked at each other thoughtfully, and rang the bell.

Since the first visit, we’ve been in no doubt that reading poems and talking is A Good Thing to do. Care workers note that some residents who are normally quite detached can suddenly respond to a few lines of a poem or even recite verse after verse, word-perfect.  Some residents like to add their own memories:  we pick poems to a theme that we hope will provide plenty of reminiscence, like Hallowe’en or Days Out or Growing Up in Edinburgh.   Some residents just like to hear poems that sound good.  Moods change, health varies:  I’ve had somebody shouting, ‘I’m no havin’ this! I’m awa hame!’, and somebody hold my hand to stop us leaving;  Leith ladies teaching me risqué playground rhymes, tips on how to fake a tan stocking, and often somebody murmuring ‘I’ve not heard that since I was..’.

After three months, we were ready to ask for a few volunteers; we were cautious about taking on many people to start, realising we would like to support volunteers as well as we could.  We currently have ten extraordinarily well-suited volunteers, who go out in pairs accompanied by a staff member to five homes.  The only apparent limit to how many volunteers we can take on is just how fast we can reasonably grow. Their company makes a huge difference to how many homes we will ultimately be able to visit, and to how much pleasure each listener can get from listening and talking. It’s early days. But a Good Thing? Leaving a carehome at the end of a session, it often like The Best Thing I’ve done all month.

If you would like to find out more about volunteering to Read Aloud in Edinburgh carehomes, please contact Lilias Fraser at the Scottish Poetry Library,, or Annie Bell at the Edinburgh City Libraries, or 0131 242 8046.