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Evaluating the ‘Read Well' project – supporting access to books and reading to promote health and wellbeing

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This study aims to evaluate the impact of new reading coach provision (the Read Well project), which will support access to books and reading in areas of high social deprivation and health need in the North East of England, with the aim of promoting health and wellbeing.

The Read Well project is supported by international best-selling author and North East resident, Ann Cleeves, who has personally provided initial funding for the reading coaches.

About the Read Well project

Part-time reading coaches will be recruited for one year to work within communities in the local authority areas of County Durham, Gateshead, Middlesbrough, North Tyneside and Northumberland.

These areas include populations experiencing high levels of deprivation and where literacy levels are particularly low.

The coaches will provide practical help (e.g. access to books and spaces/places for reading) as well as emotional support (e.g. confidence in reading and relationship building) to help improve mental wellbeing and health behaviours, with the aim of supporting better longer-term physical and mental health.

Funding and support in kind for the project has been provided by the involved local authorities as well as other health bodies in the region. Delivery of the project is being led by VONNE – Voluntary Organisations Network North East.

Background to the Read Well project

The North East of England is an area with high social and health inequalities, and some of the highest rates of health problems and early deaths in the country. These outcomes are driven by, and in turn drive, wider influences or determinants of health such as high unemployment, a lack of material resources, low school attendance and educational attainment, and reduced future opportunities to live healthy lives.

Evidence is building around the therapeutic value of reading for pleasure, and a growing number of studies have found positive links between reading and health, particularly mental wellbeing. Reading for pleasure in early life can have positive health outcomes for adolescents and arts participation (including reading groups) may help adults manage a number of health challenges including chronic disease, addiction and mental health problems. There are also reported benefits for older adults managing chronic pain.

However, those most likely to benefit from reading may be hampered by low literacy skills. Low literacy skills also affect ‘health literacy’ – the ability to access, understand, appraise and apply information for health. Low health literacy is associated with poorer health, and in addition, people who most need support for reading are less likely to have the material resources to buy books and to access care.

The Read Well project will specifically support access to books and reading to help improve health and wellbeing. By working in areas of high social deprivation, it aims to support communities whose health needs are greatest and, through this, help prevent future health problems for individuals and wider communities.

Evaluating the project

The evaluation of the Read Well project will be carried out by the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC).

Objectives of the evaluation include:

• To investigate the development and delivery of the reading coach provision in terms of numbers and socio-demographic characteristics of people supported or reached
• To explore views about the acceptability of the ‘reading coach’ initiative from the perspective of practitioners and recipients
• To assess the impact on recipients’ health and mental wellbeing
• To identify contextual factors that influence (enable or prevent) reading coach outcomes
• To assess the resource implications of developing and delivering this intervention
• To explore ‘what has worked within this reading coach initiative, for whom, and under what circumstances’.

For more information about this project, please contact:

Prof Monique Lhussier – monique.lhussier@northumbria.ac.uk

Dr Samantha Redgate – samantha.redgate@newcastle.ac.uk

Read more: Ann Cleeves explains why she wanted to fund reading coaches for North East communities

Watch: Ann Cleeves’ Guest Lecture at Sunderland University, where she talks about how the Reading Coaches project was born