November 24, 2023

Insights from Insights23: Reading in Time 

Madeline Broome
Shannon Trust Prison Facilitator
HMP Littlehey and Bedford
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Madeline Broome shares her reflections on attending an online shared reading event hosted by The Reader for Insights23. 


I attended the Reading in Time event 29 September run by members of staff from The Reader, a national charity that uses the power of literature and reading aloud to transform lives. Reading in Time facilitates shared reading in a variety of environments -in the community, in health and social care settings and also with people in the Criminal Justice System. For over 10 years, The Reader have been supporting people across both prison and probation and currently support weekly groups in more than 30 prisons and Approved Premises across the UK reading plays, poetry, short stories and novels from around the world. 

With this in mind, I wanted to know more about the variety of approaches to engagement with reading which exist in the Criminal Justice System, particularly given my role with the Shannon Trust which supports literacy for people in prison. 

What stood out for me was that the group facilitators clearly use what I consider to be ‘non-educational’ approaches to engaging people in reading. The focus of these groups is the themes of the texts and the thoughts, ideas, opinions and emotions these themes may evoke in readers. The idea is that people engage with the idea of reading, they don’t necessarily have to read aloud during group sessions if they don’t want to. These groups are not about ‘testing’ participants’ reading skills but about demonstrating to participants that reading can be enjoyable.  

The Reader staff aim to create a ‘safe’ space for group members to engage with written texts on their own terms (at least to some degree). The charity describes their groups as offering a space for people in prison to feel safe, and to think and connect in new ways, helping them better understand themselves, and others, resulting in improved wellbeing, and positive changes in thinking and behaviour, which supports rehabilitation. 

I was surprised that these groups are part of, in some instances, the PIPE (Psychologically Informed Planned Environment) programmes run by HMPPS for people in prison who have been diagnosed with personality disorders. This demonstrates the effectiveness of reading in developing empathy and the effectiveness of discussing themes and opinions in developing communication skills. Last year, The Reader and HMPPS published an independent evaluation of their Shared Reading work in PIPES carried out by Professor Alison Liebling and her team at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge. 

This was an illuminating and informative session which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I took a newfound awareness of the approaches to facilitating a reading group which The Reader’s staff use which I will try to emulate in the prison settings in which I work.  

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