Reading Rooms and Older People

Reading Rooms began to connect with older people in 2013 as part of the Uk City of Culture initial programme which showed that the Reading Rooms “provide a positive intervention through the literary arts to aid people’s health and well-being”. This has included older people within the care system as well as those living with dementia or other long term conditions such as living with a disability including learning disabilites or surviving a stroke.


Opportunities for older people to read for pleasure are usually limited due to health problems such as reduced cognitive function or visual impairment. Reading Rooms actively engages older participants both in the enjoyment of the short stories and poems as well as in the conversations that open up as part of the process. We use the Reading Rooms model to create a relationship centered approach that recognises the importance of maintaining personhood, relationships and connections to the community despite problems associated with older age. “Personhood is the standing or status bestowed on one human being, by others, in the connect of human relationships and social being” (Kitwood,1997). Many older people, for example on diagnosis with dementia or recovering from a stroke, find that other people view and interact with them differently. Often family dynamics change. Families and carers become more protective, advocating for the person affected, and this in turn impacts on their autotomy and results on the erosion of personal identity. Through communication the Reading Rooms can support older people to retain their sense of personhood which helps sustain their relationships allowing them to retain a stronger sense of well-being.

Giving a voice

Reading Rooms gives a voice to those where opportunities for conversation has been greatly reduced. For example, older people due to mobility issues may find their world becomes very limited and thus they have less to talk about. This can exacerbate the feelings of isolation and loneliness. The Reading Rooms also reaches older people who may be isolated due to living rurally in our custom made mobile bus which travels across Northern Ireland delivering Reading Rooms in remote rural areas.


The Reading Rooms offer our participants the opportunity to read high quality literature which is carefully selected by our Literary Guide. Part of the process of selection is based on feedback that the volunteers give following each session which helps us compile the literary materials accordingly. The selections include classics as well as contemporary literature, folktales and fairy stories, international and translated works as well as work by local authors. The volunteers continue their learning once trained in the bespoke OCN Facilitation Skills for Shared Reading Level 2. When working with older people they undergo Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults Training as well as focused work such as Direct Communication with those living with Dementia or Direct Communication for Stroke Survivors which enables volunteers to deliver with confidence to older people who may have a wide range of health conditions.

Across Northern Ireland

The Reading Rooms programme operates across Northern Ireland engaging with older people. As well as weekly Reading Rooms in care homes, in day care and with 50+ groups we also engage older people to fully participate in festivals such as Belfast International Arts Festival and events such as Positive Ageing Month and World Book Night.