Sunday, 16 December 2012

Poetry, Song and Stories with 'Read Aloud' in Edinburgh Care Homes

It seemed a bit scary to just start reading a poem out loud to a group of people in an Edinburgh  care home.  What if it was the last thing they wanted? I certainly did not want to impose myself on them. To be fair, some looked as if they were asleep, but after turning the telly off and after a bit of chat, I  asked if anyone wanted me to read a poem?  One lady clapped her hands and her face lit up: 'Oh YES, please!'  came a chorus. I was surprised.   So I did, giving it my best performance skills, to great applause.

This is not the reception poetry gets from many adults nowadays. However, the previous volunteer visitors had prepared the way well. Or maybe my listeners had memories of being read to aloud as children and it was a happy memory.

This was part of a scheme called 'Read Aloud' run by the Scottish Poetry Library and Edinburgh City Libraries, where a team of volunteers visit care-home throughout Edinburgh, and recently this scheme is being extended to other parts of Scotland. The idea is to use poetry, song and stories inspired by a different, given theme each time to spur chat and reminiscences.  Some of the care-home residents have early onset dementia but the poems and songs jog their memories,  help keep their brain active, and the sessions are a way of being connected to other people, and most importantly, bring them great pleasure.

 Incidentally the poem I had chosen was Jackie Kay's 'Grandpa's Soup' and it went down a treat.
'I say, Grandpa, Grandpa, your soup is the best soup....' I read and several of the group finished the line with me:  'in the whole world', not that they knew the poem in advance but Jackie's lines are predictable in the best way. Haven't we all said something similar as children?

 So after that initial success, I read a few more - but not straight away. Lots of chat and came first, stories about childhood reminiscences prompted by the poem.  If I was apprehensive that it would be difficult to get them chatting, this worry was soon dispelled - it was the opposite, impossible to stop them!  We also varied the poems with songs - music hall songs proved popular.  One lady, a great character, knew all the words and it did did not take much to persuade her to sing. She confessed she'd gone to Miss Henderson's School for tap-dancing in her youth and learnt the songs there. 

And I must admit, I think I enjoyed it as much, if not more than they did: hearing reminiscences about life in the auld days in Embra, poverty-stricken childhoods in houses with no running water or indoor baths or toilets, walking to school with no shoes, (the only pair saved for kirk on Sundays) were some of the stories. I felt honoured to share their memories and how important it is for these stories not to be lost.

If you want to know more, here is a clip on You Tube, showing sessions in action with comments from volunteers and care home residents (10 mins)

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