Every week, at 4:30pm on a Wednesday, at St Joseph’s lifelong learning centre, a group of students gather for Book Club.
This class is small, with just four or five people regularly attending but it has a special intimate atmosphere, being at the end of the day when most other students have gone home. As one member, Barbara says: “I look forward to the book club every week and I can see my friends and I love having a chat.”
The books used by the club, from the Books Beyond Words series, always prompt a lot of chat and discussion. Although most of the students can read, they can understand images better. These books are specially designed for people with learning disabilities and tell stories and give information purely through pictures.
As Jaimini says “I like the book club because it’s exciting reading and learning and describing the pictures.”
The club follows the same pattern each week. Students are welcomed, both verbally and using Makaton or British Sign Language (BSL). A few books are shown to the students allowing them to vote on which book they should look at next, or if they are already part-way through a book, they take time to recall what has happened so far.
A single copy of the book is used. Passing it around allows each student in turn to describe the picture and comment. By the end of the session book club members will have discussed the book themes, communicating in a number of ways, including expressive body language and facial expression, vocally and using BSL or Makaton.
The topics of the books are often about health issues or relationships and there is always a lot to discuss. Debbie has learnt a lot from her favourite book ‘Enjoying Sport and Exercise’ she says “I want to carry on eating healthily and cut out fatty foods. The books have helped me think about those things.”
Students gradually become more open to talking about their own experiences such as Nilesh, the newest Book Club member. Nilesh’s favourite Book Club book is ‘Getting on with Epilepsy’. At first, Nilesh was unsure about the books and would say, “it’s OK” and motion for the book to be passed on without him, but now he loves to talk about how the topic of the book has moved him and his own life experience. Nilesh engages fully with the storyline and hopes his experience might help others.
Laura, who runs the Book Club describes it as “a small group that has a nice chat and some social time talking about the topics in the Beyond Words book series.”
Giulia remembers the early days of the Book Club and an exciting trip to Sadler’s Wells Theatre for a celebration with Books Beyond Words in 2015:
“The book club was with Sue Day, she run it, I went for around 3-4 year. It was good for me as I don’t understand long stories, although I can read.
The launch [of the book “The Drama Group”] in London was really nice because we met Hugh Grant and we watched a show and he was in it. He came up and saw us upstairs and we had a photo with him and got his autograph.
I liked seeing my friends, Zoe and Kashia who were non-identical twins, and Chris, and after we used to go out to eat to a restaurant.”
The Book Club is one of dozens of classes run at St Joseph’s Lifelong Learning Centre in Hendon, and at the two external centres: Connect@ Hounslow and Connect@ Feltham.