A local strand of a UK-wide reading befriending programme, Reading Friends, a programme by The Reading Agency and funded by The Big Lottery fund is being launched today, Monday, 10 December 2018, at Malvern House, Chapel Road, Waterside, Derry/Londonderry.

The launch

The project is being launched by Verbal, the leading organisation on the island of Ireland that promotes the power of the spoken and written word, The Reading Agency a national charity that tackles life's big challenges through the proven power of reading, and Older People North West, who are committed to helping older people enjoy the best possible quality of life.

Shared reading

After an open application process, funding of £10k was awarded to Older People North West to enable their service users to participate in the Reading Friends programme, an exciting new UK-wide programme designed to tackle loneliness by building connections through shared reading. 


Reading Friends was developed in response to evidence that a social reading programme could provide powerful benefits for older people.

Through the programme, in the next 9 months, the lives of up to 150 older people in the Derry City & Strabane District Council area, identified as being vulnerable and at risk of loneliness especially during the winter months will be transformed.

Recruitment and training of 15 volunteers who will deliver reading activities is underway.

Reading and conversation

Under the banner of Reading Friends, Older People North West will participate in the shared and transportive activity of reading. The social reading programme which is being trialled in Northern Ireland for the first time will also have long term benefits for participants including; keeping them mentally active, reducing or slowing down cognitive decline, reducing stress, and uses a shared love of reading to provide a safe space for people to engage in meaningful conversation. 

First Reading Friends group in Northern Ireland

Welcoming the £10k funding from The Reading Agency, a spokesperson for Older People North West said:

“This is an exciting project and we are delighted to launch the first Reading Friends group in Northern Ireland here at Malvern House in the Waterside area of Derry/Londonderry. We have trained our first volunteers who are eager to start engaging with our older people.

We know from research that the winter months and Christmas can be particularly lonely for older people and we welcome Reading Friends as a tool for helping older people stay in touch and connected with each other”.

It is hoped the project will also help highly vulnerable older people to reduce isolation and loneliness, address challenging life issues and meet new people.

Partnership with Verbal

Focusing on the aims of the programme, James Kerr, Director for Verbal, said:

‘We are delighted to partner with The Reading Agency to be able to offer this opportunity to Older People North West and their service users.

Reading Friends brings together volunteers (“Reading Partners”) and vulnerable and isolated older people, including people with dementia and their carers (“Reading Friends”) through social reading.

At Verbal we believe every story matters, and that every person no matter what their background or social circumstances are, should have access to the resources and opportunity to tell their story, we are thrilled that this project will afford participants to not only tell their story but for it to be heard.’


Reading Friends volunteers come from all walks of life and receive full support and training in how to lead a Reading Friends session based on the interests of their group.

Reading Friends groups and one-to-one sessions usually run for up to six weeks and it is hoped that there will be opportunities to engage with diverse groups of people in a variety of community settings in the future.


For media information contact:

Esther Haller Clarke E:  [email protected]  P: 07830 513296 or 

Christine Carlin at Older People North West: [email protected], or call 028 71 347 478

Notes to Editors
1. Christine Carlin, Older People North West and James Kerr, Director, Verbal, are available for interview. Please contact Esther Haller Clarke, 07830 513296 to arrange.

2. Media opportunities at the launch are available from 11.30am-12.45pm.

3. Photographs will be issued to picture desks on xxxx by xxxxx Photography.

4. What is Reading Friends?

Reading Friends is a nationwide programme designed by The Reading Agency, and funded by the Big Lottery Fund. The programme is delivered in partnership with organisations across England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Reading Friends in Northern Ireland is supported by Verbal. http://www.readingfriends.org.uk/

5. Who is the Reading Agency? 

The Reading Agency is a national charity that tackles life's big challenges through the proven power of reading. We work closely with partners to develop and deliver programmes for people of all ages and backgrounds. The Reading Agency is funded by Arts Council England. www.readingagency.org.uk 

6.What partners are involved? 

Older People North West (previously known as AGE concern) is working alongside and supported by Verbal to deliver the Reading Friends project. 

7. Verbal

Verbal is the leading agency in Ireland promoting the power of the spoken and written word. Verbal believes every story matters and works to ensure that everyone, regardless of ability, background or circumstances has access to the resources and opportunities to tell their story.


8. Older People North West

Older People North West (OPNW) is committed to helping older people enjoy the best possible quality of life by providing services across the Derry City and Strabane District Council area. The organisation aims to improve access to and participation in hobbies, activities, social and health-promoting services. They also provide outreach to more isolated older people including Meals on Wheels and a befriending service.

9. How long will participants be involved in the project?

Participants in the ‘Reading Friends project will commit to taking part in a six week programme meeting on a weekly basis for approximately one hour

For more information on the programme please contact; 

For more information, please contact Christine Carlin at Older People North West: [email protected], or call 028 71 347 478