Who are we?

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This blog features information about and creative work by bibliotherapy reading groups — groups which meet for shared reading and discussion as ‘an active way to improve wellbeing, build stronger communities and extend reading pleasure‘ — set up by Dr. Sam Durrant, School of English, University of Leeds. Sam started an experimental group in 2010 in partnership with SOLACE, a charity based in Leeds which supports survivors of persectution. The success of this group has led to the establishment of other groups. Dr Rachel Webster, a lecturer at North Lindsey College, currently runs a group at Leeds Central Library.

Dr Christine Chettle runs a reading group in partnership with Leeds STAR (Student Action for Refugees) at  the Little London Community Centre, Leeds. A third group, led by Dr Helen Kingstone  (Post-doctoral Research Associate at Leeds Trinity) and April Geers (School of English PhD student), runs in conjunction with the Compton Road Library in Harehills, Leeds.

A fourth group, led by Ruth Daly (School of English PhD student), has just been started in conjunction with Armley Library.

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Reading Together for Refugees: In pictures

A big thank you to all who came along to Friday’s event. With a very successful turnout, we were really happy to see a lot of voices being heard! Below are a few pictures highlighting the day’s events.


Sam Durrant introducing Leeds Reading Groups for those seeking asylum and refuge in Leeds — at Leeds Central Library.


‘Reading poems together encourages people to use their own voice…to feel empowered’  — with Christine ChettleHelen KingstoneRachel Whitehead and Sam Durrant.


Rachel speaking about the lively discussion of political, cultural and societal concerns that takes place in reading groups. — with Rachel Whitehead.


Anne Burghgraef, Clinical Director of Solace talks about the importance of shared reading groups in terms of building a sense of community in order to flourish in a new culture.


Israr, April and Helen read their poem “In Our Country” which they co-wrote in their reading group at Compton Centre — with April Geers and Helen Kingstone.


Margaret Katula reading her powerful poem “Motherland and England”


Malika Booker wowed us all with her reading of “My Mother’s Blues” from her collection Pepper Seed

For those who couldn’t make it, here’s a video of Malika reading her poem: https://vimeo.com/76416012




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Free Event: Reading Together For Refugees Week

Leeds Bibliotherapy Groups Present a Free Taster and Information Workshop: Reading Together For Refugees Week

Friday 24th June 2016 1 – 4.30pm 3rd Floor Meeting Room, Leeds Central Library Calverley Street Leeds LS1 3AB

This workshop is designed to give a taste of the inspirational support that bibliotherapy reading groups can offer for refugees and asylum seekers, cementing a sense of community and helping to overcome alienation and isolation. All attendees are very much welcome at this workshop, especially refugees, asylum seekers and those who support them.

Image Reading with Refugees Event

This event, put on in partnership with Leeds Libraries, includes a free buffet lunch, an introduction to the reading groups, taster sessions, a roundtable with existing group members and leaders, poetry readings, and a creative writing workshop. It also offers an opportunity to join one of our reading groups, currently running in Central Leeds, Harehills, Little London and Armley. We respectfully ask all attendees to book at this address: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/leedslibraryevents

For more information, please email Sam Durrant (s.r.durrant@leeds.ac.uk), call Leeds Libraries (0113 247 6016), or investigate our Facebook group: Reading with Refugees and Asylum Seekers Leeds.
Download our flyer here: Readingrefugees pdf

This event is kindly supported by the Wellcome Trust, Leeds Libraries and Information Services, and the University of Leeds.

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On ‘The Road Not Taken’, by Robert Frost

by Harriet Sheppard

This poem was a great one to talk about in our group: after going
through the meaning of all the new vocabulary, we discussed important
decisions that we make in our lives and how they can have far reaching

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

The group have very different perspectives on the
meaning of the poem and how it relates to their own varied experiences
of life. Matilda, a 70 year old woman from the Congo spoke of regrets
about decisions she made while in Africa that effect her life now.
Meanwhile, Camille,  a young French woman, spoke of her excitement in
the decisions that are still to come in her life, and how going for
the harder option can be an exciting challenge!

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The Pattern: SOLACE Reading Group

by Rachel Webster
Each week we use poetry to wonder afresh at the world that we live in; sometimes that world is full of hope and at other times its hostile and restless. But all the time we are seeking to make sense of experience, and to reconcile our past with the present. Some poems, in their unassuming form, take you by surprise, like Michael Longley’s ‘The Pattern’. It depicts a simple, nostalgic memory of the poet’s wedding day. A dress pattern becomes the catalyst for remembering; an insignificant object that causes a depth of emotion to spill out. As readers we are caught up in this bittersweet moment, learning how to articulate a past in an ever-changing present.

The Pattern

Thirty-six years, to the day, after our wedding
When a cold figure-revealing wind blew against you
And lifted your veil, I find in its fat envelope
The six-shilling Vogue pattern for your bride’s dress,
Complicated instructions for stitching bodice
And skirt, box pleats and hems, tissue-paper outlines,
Semblance of skin which I nervously unfold
And hold up in snow light, for snow has been falling
On this windless day, and I glimpse your wedding dress
And white shoes outside in the transformed garden
Where the clothesline and every twig have been covered.

Taken from Being Alive, ed. Neil Astley (Tarset: Bloodaxe Books, 2004), p. 243

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Collaborative Poetry: Little London Reading Group

by Christine Chettle and members of the Little London Reading Group
At the Little London Reading Group sessions, we sometimes write collaborative poetry, in which every member (if they wish) contributes a line about a particular theme. We then collect the lines together to read what we have created as a group.
The first collaborative poetry writing session was inspired by a passage in Alice Through the Looking Glass when Alice collects rushes which vanish as soon as she picks them, becoming symbols of beauty which cannot last.

Collecting Rushes
Happiness is like scented-rushes.
The snow lies on the trees like icing-sugar.
Lilies are spread in the meadow like gems.
The city glows from the wall behind me.
Horses gallop with their flowing manes, showing their pride
My mother’s eyes give a chocolate-coloured warmth.
Horses gambol with children like magical toys.
When I wake up in the morning, I feel all the world wake up.
I breathe fresh air and fly with my opinions, and thinking so,
I am always singing with the birds, wind, clouds;
so my happiness is sharing every thing in nature.

From 'Alice Rows the Sheep' by John Tenniel

From ‘Alice Rows the Sheep’ by John Tenniel

Uncertainty clouds my mind, reminding me of failing love.
I carry many faces in my heart; they speak a language of both joy and pain.
My heart always opens for new feelings, but just nice feelings, and
in my heart are living a lot of nice people, and I remember them all the time,
so my heart sometimes is tired.
My heart flutters like a shivering bird, seeking fondness, grace and love.

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