The Care Homes Reading Project has become one of the University’s most successful student volunteer initiatives. 

Exeter academic selected as the 350th ‘Points of Light’ winner for the Care Homes Reading Project

English lecturer at the University of Exeter, Dr Johanna Harris, has been selected as the 350thPoints of Light’ winner by Prime Minister David Cameron for her work in founding and co-ordinating the Care Homes Reading Project.

The Care Homes Reading Project began in the English department in October 2011 and has become one of the University’s most successful student volunteer initiatives. Students volunteer to read to elderly people and vulnerable adults living in residential care. The volunteers are trained and sent out to a large number of care homes across Exeter. They visit residents on a regular basis, reading poetry, plays, novels, and short stories, and spend time socialising and chatting with them. By sharing a love for literature, these relationships offer companionship for elderly people and a strong intergenerational link that the programme claims is vital to a establishing a healthy community. The recognition of well-known poems and readings can also help manage conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, as they can stir long lost memories.

2nd Year English and Drama student, Katherine Lea, who volunteered as part of this initiative said: “The most rewarding thing about visiting the care home and reading to Joan is the way she lights up when I walk into the room. Every time I see her she gets more comfortable around me, and she's started telling me stories about her life so it's become very much an interactive process. In starting this project, I've made and built a friendship that is just as rewarding for me as it is for her! It's such a wonderful opportunity for her to be able to momentarily escape and be carried away by the language of some of her favourite poems, and I am so lucky to be able to bring this happiness to her life.”

The Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers who are making a change in their community. Each day a member of the public in the United Kingdom is chosen to receive the award to honour their exceptional achievements. Dr Harris has been overwhelmed by the support she has received from both the student and local community. This year, she has recruited over 100 student volunteers and has links with 10 care homes across Exeter. She has plans to expand the scheme into local schools.  

Dr Harris said: “It’s a great privilege for me and the students to be recognised with this Points of Light award. The project is a huge success and this is only possible because of the enthusiasm and dedication of our students, and their commitment to the local community. I hope this encourages more young people around the country to get involved in volunteering in activities that focus on supporting elderly residents and build strong links in our community.

“From my own experiences, I have seen what literature can do. One poem that is requested again and again by both students and the care home residents is Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’. There is something about the beauty of nature, the nostalgia and the downright Englishness of that poem which transcends generational gaps and really brings people together.”

Visit the Points of Light winners’ page and view our story on the Care Homes Reading Project from 2012. For more information on the Care Homes Reading Project, please visit the project's website.

Date: 29 September 2015

Read more University News