Verbal Peer Volunteer Erin took part in the Reading Rooms programme, which is funded by Spirit and delivered by Verbal Arts in Northern Ireland.
Erin joined the Reading Rooms programme after visiting the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry-Londonderry, where she was invited to take part in some sessions.
We asked her about her journey to becoming a Peer Volunteer…
Well I moved into residential housing when I was 16 and it was a bit difficult being a young person out on my own – I was in there for three years. Then I lived in Strabane and in Ballykelly and Coleraine for a while. Now I’m in Derry-Londonderry again in residential housing, which is really good and positive. I really like it here. And this is how I came to be at Verbal Arts, and learn about Reading Rooms.
At the start it was a wee bit weird but I began to really enjoy it. I wasn’t used to reading and I never, ever read a book before. I wasn’t the type – I didn’t think I had the time for it. But now I really like it.
Even though you knew nothing about it, what made you decide to try Reading Rooms?
Because I like trying new things and I’m glad I did. I learned that I do enjoy reading and I love all the different types of poems and stories. I think it’s helped my writing; I enjoy writing a lot more than I did.
What did you get out of the programme?
We used the stories that we read each week focus on topics that are really relevant to young people, like mental health. A lot of young people suffer anxiety and depression and I think it’s really good that we’re all talking about it round a table, discussions to get people to open up about their own mental health experiences. Mental health isn’t just negative; it can be positive.
The Verbal Arts Centre in Derry-Londonderry run Reading Rooms sessions for different groups of people, encouraging them to explore ideas and their own experiences through structured readings of novels, short stories and poetry. The literature is read aloud by a trained, accredited volunteer facilitator.
What did you do after Reading Rooms?
Verbal Arts trained me to do level two in Facilitation Skills, and once I’d done that I helped deliver a Voice of Young People in Care session, for a group of 10 young children who are in care. I facilitated a group for 14 weeks and it just went so well. We had a wee party at the end. Everyone that joined the group, stayed in the group. They just loved it so much and I have a really good bond with them all up there.
I would like to try a one-to-one Reading Rooms next.
Where’s next on your journey?
The Health and Social Care Trust has helped me in such a positive way, so I want work with them in some way, and I’m hoping to do an Open University course – Psychology, Child Psychology and Social Work. I want to get my Social Work qualification and then hopefully, I do something in children’s services. I’m not sure exactly what yet – I’m very ambitious.
If you have a message for your peers, what would it be?
Don’t be scared of Reading Rooms, of reading and trying something new. Just go for it and take it as it comes. I’ve always loved talking to people and this way you get to hear so many different perspectives. I really love reading now.
To read more about Verbal Arts, click here.
To find out about Spirit's funding of Reading Rooms, click here.