In 2022 Verbal collaborated with Trinity College Dublin on a project titled ‘Reading Rooms: Fostering constructive & inclusive dialogue between communities’ funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations scheme.

Project Summary:

This inter-disciplinary project sought to investigate and advance the potential of shared reading groups to promote purposeful and meaningful dialogue among Northern Ireland interface communities. Trinity College Dublin partnered with Verbal, a voluntary organisation with nearly 30 years’ experience working to improve cross-community relations in Northern Ireland. The project aimed to design a new framework and identify suitable literary texts for cross-community groups; conduct a pilot shared reading group; seek feedback from participants on group processes in relation to health and wellbeing, literary texts, and shared futures; and present findings in a report.

The report created as part of this project concluded:

The findings overwhelmingly validate Verbal’s existing approach to Reading Rooms, while also building upon this strong foundation to create an effective model for the selection of literature. For example, establishing a literature advisory panel, including flash fiction, organising a schedule according to themes, and creating a long list of diverse texts (both in terms of form and content) that engage with the universal as well as the particular has created a programme with high levels of engagement across 12 weeks. Verbal’s format of including stops with questions for discussion has also been tested and validated, and is a format favoured by participants across all groups. Selected stories have allowed participants to engage in meaningful dialogue about a range of topics, from childhood to mental health. Some stories specific to a Northern Irish context have explicitly encouraged conversations about life in the region, while other stories engaging with themes such as conflict, family, and so on, have also generated discussion about experiences past and present in the area. One of the most significant findings from the research is the value that participants placed on Reading Rooms above other cross-community initiatives, with some noting its unique position in establishing meaningful relationships:

“there’s so much sameness rather than difference from all of our stories and all of our sharing”

“we bonded over these stories and we have built up a level of trust through our discussions over the last couple of years.”

Drawing upon their experiences of Reading Rooms, participants believed that such a model could be employed right across the island of Ireland (and beyond), and that it is a meaningful and successful initiative that should be rolled out to younger and future generations:

“give them stories and tell them that they're enough as they are. That’s all they need.”