Latest news

network icon
27 Aug 2021

Can stories help with our health? Author Ann Cleeves takes part in one of the first ‘Reading for Wellbeing' events in Gateshead

Ann Cleeves meets reading Support Workers
Pictured: Ann Cleeves meets the Reading for Wellbeing team from Gateshead.

“Stories can be healing. If we’re drowning in chaotic thoughts of our own, to step inside someone else’s head, just for a while, is a kind of freedom.” – Ann Cleeves

A new pilot scheme to support reading for wellbeing, supported by international bestselling author and North East resident Ann Cleeves, is about to be launched in the region.

It involves the appointment of nine ‘Community Reading Workers’ across six local authority pilot areas, which are County Durham, Gateshead, North Tyneside, Northumberland and South Tees – covering Middlesbrough plus Redcar and Cleveland.

The project was initiated by Ann Cleeves herself, to mark the 21st anniversary of her detective character Vera Stanhope, and in recognition of the solace she’s found in stories throughout her life. Ann has also donated some personal funding for the pilot.

The Community Reading Workers will enable access to stories, including audio books, to help improve the health and wellbeing of those in need of support. They will offer a holistic and personalised approach to help individuals take proactive steps to improve their health and wellbeing. This will include spaces and places for reading, emotional support, and other tools to help mental and physical wellbeing.

Further funding and support has been provided by the local authorities involved, and other partners including Public Health England (North East), Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East (VONNE).

Academics from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC) are helping to shape the scheme as well as evaluate its impact. The work is being led by Professor Monique Lhussier from Northumbria University and Dr Samantha Redgate from Newcastle University.

Pre-launch event at Chopwell Woods

Ahead the pilot’s official launch in September, Ann Cleeves joined project workers in Gateshead to help deliver a community event at Chopwell Woods on Wednesday 25 August.

In Gateshead, the scheme is being delivered via a collaboration between Edbert’s House, Gateshead Council’s Library Service, and Community Link Workers from GP practices across the borough’s Primary Care Network, and three Community Reading Workers have been appointed.

During the day, families from Gateshead enjoyed a Gruffalo-inspired reading trail in the morning, followed by a ‘murder mystery’ afternoon session for adults set around one of Ann’s own scripts.

Many of the adults who attended had been particularly limited by lockdown, and for some it was their first social outing in more than 18 months.

Ann Cleeves said:

“Over the years, I’ve seen how understanding and confidence grows when people are encouraged to explore their experiences through story. It gives a fresh perspective. A distance. Anger and resentment can dissipate. And because we’re sharing a bit of ourselves when we’re talking about books, friendships develop.

“It has been more than 21 years since my detective character Vera Stanhope first appeared in the Crow Trap. Vera has been good to me, but I wouldn’t have had the tools to write Vera if libraries hadn’t allowed me to read widely. So I decided to mark Vera’s 21st anniversary by giving a birthday present to the region that created her – by suggesting and sponsoring this Reading for Wellbeing project.  The impact of COVID-19 has made this project even more relevant, particularly as we have seen the impact it is having on those from disadvantaged communities.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to see this idea come to life, thanks to a brilliant team that have worked so hard to make it happen, despite the challenges and setbacks that COVID-19 has brought. It’s wonderful to meet three of our new reading workers and see how passionate they are about making a difference to health and wellbeing through stories and reading.”

Helen Bell, from the Inner West Gateshead Primary Care Network, is co-ordinating the Gateshead team within the pilot.

She said:

“Stories are an important way of processing our experiences, whether that’s reading a book, listening to an audio book, or indeed telling our own stories and sharing the things that matter to us. We can get a welcome escape through immersing ourselves in an imaginary or fantastical world when our own lives may be chaotic or stressful, and we hope some people will be keen to share the joy of this escapism by coming together through this project and beyond.

“This pilot adds to the holistic approach to health and wellbeing we’ve already developed across our Primary Care Networks in Gateshead through our Community Link Workers – who work as part of GP practice teams to support people whose wellbeing is affected by socially-driven issues as well clinical or medical needs.

“These story-based outdoor events are perfect for those who haven’t felt able to do anything socially for a while because of COVID-19 restrictions, but who’ve been looking for a safe way to reconnect with people again. It’s fantastic that Ann has joined us today, it adds a whole new dimension to the event and makes it even more special.”

The event was supported by staff at Chopwell Woods, the ‘Friends of Chopwell Woods’ community group, and refreshments on the day were kindly provided by Healthworks.

Councillor Angela Douglas, Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport and Leisure for Gateshead Council added:

“The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for us all, and the timely launch of Reading for Wellbeing will provide a vital lifeline for many residents who are seeking support with improving their health and wellbeing.

“Whether it be reading a book, or listening to an audio book, getting lost in a story is a great way of managing everyday stress and anxiety. We have an excellent network of libraries across Gateshead, and I am delighted those in need will now not only receive assistance in accessing the reading materials they’re interested in, but through the project staff will also receive emotional and motivational support to help guide their recovery.

“It is great to see Ann Cleeves offering her support to the pre-launch events, which I’m sure will be a resounding success, and in time I look forward to similarly engaging events being available as part of the Reading for Wellbeing Project.”

About the Reading for Wellbeing project

A total of nine Community Reading Workers across six local authority areas will support access to books, reading and stories to help improve health and wellbeing.

Working in targeted areas, they will take a holistic and personalised approach to support, empower and motivate individuals to take proactive steps to improve their health and wellbeing by providing practical help though access to books, spaces and places for reading, and emotional support through improved confidence in reading and relationship building. They will also help parents to engage their children in reading too, where relevant.

The Community Reading Workers will provide an individual service, friendship, the time to listen, and books and stories, as well as a link to enthusiastic librarians, other readers or aspiring writers.

The six local authority areas involved have contributed their own funds and each area has defined their own model determined by local needs.

It is hoped that early findings from the evaluation by the NIHR ARC North East and North Cumbria will support future investment and scale-up.

A regional group has been established to oversee the project, hosted by Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East (VONNE) and Public Health England. The group includes representation from each of the six pilot areas, the NIHR ARC North East and North Cumbria evaluation team, primary care and public health leads, voluntary and community sector leads, The Literacy Trust, and other key partners and potential collaborators.

Find out more about the Reading for Wellbeing project