Lead Reading in the time of Covid

Find out what’s been going on in our sessions as one of our volunteers shares news from their group.


Lead Reading in the time of Covid


Carole McMurray is a Lead Reader who leads shared reading sessions with our National Library of Scotland Group. She also works with members of our Dower House Group.


It’s almost a year to the day since I took the plunge and trained as a Lead Reader with Open Book, and I can hand on heart say that this was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Everything that people tell you about volunteering being worthwhile and rewarding, especially when you’re doing something you love doing – meeting new people who share your passion and love for reading, and sharing that love by reading out loud and then spending an hour chatting about it over a cup of coffee and a piece of cake – is true. It’s been an absolute joy and pleasure this past year, and it’s saved me in what, for all of us, I think I can safely say, has been the most difficult year of our lives.


Who could possibly have predicted that the year would pan out like this?


Just before Christmas in 2019, I was made redundant from my job in publishing, so I decided to work as a freelance editor, which afforded me the opportunity to train with Open Book. No sooner had I completed my training, and enjoyed a wonderful introductory one-week experience with the Dower House group that meets weekly in Corstorphine, the Covid-19 pandemic became rampant, then Lockdown 1.0 happened, and everything ground to a halt. Navigating our way through this unique and unprecedented situation, Open Book, like many other organisations, transitioned to the Zoom platform, meaning that weekly reading sessions could continue online. And so, along with fellow Lead Reader Pauline Moore, I have been running the National Library of Scotland Zoom group on Monday mornings since April last year.


This group was already well established when Pauline and I stepped in and I admit to feeling more than a little nervous that morning before my first Zoom session with the group. I had started to use Zoom for work, and for yoga classes, along with – or so it seemed – most of the rest of the population – but to start running an established group online without having ever met any of them in person, or at all, before, was a little bit daunting.


Of course, I needn’t have worried.


I was immediately made to feel welcome, and it became clear to me very quickly that not only had bonds already been formed, but friendships were continuing to develop through the online medium of Zoom. As the weeks, now months, go on, it is truly magical to witness and share in the unfolding of friendships and deepening of bonds in the group. There is the core, of course, who turn up every week, but also those who turn up most weeks, or when they are able, and we now enjoy a solid core of 8-10, which is the group at maximum capacity.


As anyone who has ever run or attended a Zoom meeting will know (and, let’s face it, that’s probably most of us given the events of the past year) each participant becomes a small box in the corner of your laptop or computer screen, so it can prove quite tricky to navigate your way around trying to balance screen-sharing with keeping an eye on all participants while ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to read and respond if they’d like to. There is not a shortage of people speaking up to read aloud in this group, and we are now at the stage where we pretty much know who’ll read first, who last, and who may even wish to read twice! As lead reader for this group, I very rarely need to step in and read aloud myself .. which is fine by me!


Having been so warmly welcomed into this group, it’s lovely to also feel part of a shared experience each week, and I look forward to hearing the chosen material read aloud in different accents, by each of the members, from different corners of Scotland, and occasionally from even further afield.


This has been one of the real standout highlights of the past 10 months online. Although meeting in person every week is sorely missed by everyone (and the soup and scone afterwards in the comfortable NLS surroundings!) it has been wonderful to welcome people from outside of Edinburgh. Pauline herself runs the group from her Glasgow home, and I am currently in Dundee with family during lockdown. We have members from Fife, from the Highlands, from Orkney and the Borders.


Our weekly format of a short story and two or three poems on a theme, will typically take us down all sorts of rabbit holes and meanders into discussions from which that piece of writing has been the springboard. The group doesn’t always agree with each other, which can make for an interesting, lively and provocative hour! Often the hour goes so quickly I can scarcely believe the clock is telling the truth when it strikes 11.


It’s a very intimate and special thing, being taken into other people’s homes each week, sharing a cup of coffee with them, over the wires, and it’s such an honour, pleasure and privilege to be able to do so.


We are a community. A splinter of something wonderful. Threads woven into the Open Book tapestry.


Each of us has been called by the sirensong of words, and the sharing of stories old and new, some known, many less well-known, from all corners of the world, and each one of us has our own unique take on each piece.


As 2021 unfolds, I find myself wondering what lies ahead. As I write, it looks as if we will all be Zooming for some time yet. As much as we are all looking forward to the day we can get together in the serene and auspicious surroundings of the National Library of Scotland, in the meantime, I think we have all come to appreciate the fact that we can get together virtually each Monday morning, sip a cup of tea or coffee, catch up, and have a good old chat about books.


It has been a wonderful way for us all to feel connected and for me personally to develop new skills and keep learning and growing.