Read and Connect Summary Report

The Read and Connect project was funded as part of Brightlife’s ‘Bright Ideas’ strand. This fund encouraged local groups, voluntary organisations and businesses to come forward with ideas to reduce isolation and loneliness for older people within areas or communities of interest.

Read and Connect was delivered over 12 months by a partnership between three Cheshire-based voluntary sector organisations (The Neuromuscular Centre, Cheshire Centre for Independent Living, and Cheshire and Warrington Carers Trust), with an award of £20,000.

A further £4000 was awarded in a subsequent funding round, to deliver an extension to the project.

Key learning

  • Reading and other literary activities can be a useful focus for interventions, as there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to interpret a book.
  • Digital access (or accessibility tools) may not be appropriate for all age groups.
  • Friendships formed over a common interest may be more likely to continue outside a project environment.
  • People with long-term conditions (and their carers) may have limited availability to meet at regular times.
  • Successful collaboration with other delivery partners (and with commissioners) can help providers to learn from each other and adapt design of services accordingly.

Development and delivery

The aim of the Read and Connect project was to reduce loneliness and social isolation amongst over-50s with a long-term disabling condition (and their carers), by enabling participation in accessible book clubs.

Regular club meetings were held at three accessible community venues, with participants encouraged to take part in book discussions and other activities, including lectures from guest speakers, poetry workshops and exhibition visits.

An online presence was established for the project to facilitate participation from those who were unable to physically attend a group, while alternative formats of literature, such as audio books, were purchased to accommodate the needs of participants with physical limitations.

Feedback from participants suggested they valued having a shared book as a ‘safe’ focus for each event. Not having a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way for the book to be interpreted encouraged more active participation in the discussion from all members of the group.

While participation in the group meetings was generally enthusiastic, challenges were encountered in terms of scheduling, as many of the participants with long-term conditions (and their carers) had limited availability to meet at regular times. There was less ‘mixing’ between groups than had been anticipated, and engagement with the club Facebook group was also very low (potentially as a result of some participants’ lack of familiarity with the platform).

The project team also reported difficulties with the administration of the formal evaluation, particularly in terms of engaging participants with the CMF questionnaire.

The success of the Read and Connect project encouraged the delivery partners to successfully apply for further funding from Brightlife, to deliver an extension to the project. This funding was used to establish ‘Reel Connections’, a film club for over-50s with a long-term disabling condition (and their carers).

Impact and legacy

Feedback from participants suggested that the Read and Connect project had improved their sense of connectedness and grown their support networks, with friendships that had initially formed over a common interest in reading being continued outside the group.

Some participants also reported becoming more involved in their communities as a result of the project, for example by visiting their local library and attending external literary events.

For many, participation in the project had also contributed to a marked improvement in their emotional wellbeing. These individuals reported having re-discovered a love of books, describing their new-found reading habits as an ‘escape’ from loneliness.

The three delivery partners reported that working in partnership was a positive experience, and that their participation in the delivery of the Read and Connect project had led to further opportunities for collaboration. They also suggested that the knowledge they had each gained through their involvement with Brightlife was likely to inform the design of any future projects for older people.