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Credit James Ram

Exeter Cathedral and its grounds. Credit: James Ram

Duchess of Cornwall to meet families taking part in literature “therapy” to encourage love of reading and improve mental health

The Duchess of Cornwall will meet families taking part in literature “therapy” to encourage a love of reading and promote better mental health during the Royal visit to Exeter next week.

Pupils in the city and their parents have been given a prescription of books – based on their interests and wellbeing needs – after sessions with a “bibliotherapist” this summer.

The initiative is part of Exeter’s prestigious UNESCO City of Literature programme, which will help make the city and wider region a beacon for the literary arts. The bibliotherapy is designed for low-income families who struggle with literacy and may not have many books at home.

Pupils at Whipton Barton Junior School in Exeter, and their families, who are the first to take part, will meet the Duchess during her tour of Exeter Cathedral on Monday, when Exeter’s UNESCO City of Literature status will be celebrated.

The bibliotherapist has recommended books appropriate for their reading level, interests, background, and emotional wellbeing. Two to three of the books on the prescription have been supplied by City of Literature. All sessions are completely free of charge and voluntary, and designed for those aged eight and above.

Anna Cohn Orchard, Director of Exeter City of Literature, said: “Research shows reading improves people’s confidence, reduces social isolation, improves concentration, fosters an interest in new learning or new ways of understanding and increases self-awareness.

“Bibliotherapy allows people to work with a bibliotherapist to explore their relationship with books, and then get a book prescription which will help bolster their love of reading, and find some new books which they will really enjoy. We hope this will help people find a new approach to issues such as anxiety, depression, grief, and isolation, and use literature to help them better understand and cope with the world around them. Reading in this way can help people get new perspectives on the world, and put their finger on feelings that they may often have had but perhaps never fully understood.

“It will be a privilege to meet the Duchess of Cornwall and discuss the project, and the City of Literature programme.”

Exeter was designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2019. The vision is for Exeter and the wider region to be a place of readers and to share a love of storytelling across all communities using all art forms.

The bibliotherapists are from the company the Novel Cure, which is run by Susan Elderkin, who is based in Somerset and Ella Berthoud.

Whipton Barton Junior School Headteacher Gary Read said: “Our families have really embraced Bibliotherapy with Susan. Their discussions have led them to new books and in some cases, reignited an interest in reading. One of our parents was keen to have a follow-up session so we are looking at ways we can continue the project next year. “

Anyone who would like to sponsor the bioliotherapy work should contact a.orchard2@exeter.ac.uk or go to www.exetercityofliterature.com.

Date: 16 July 2021

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