Vera creator backs Reading for Wellbeing scheme

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International best-selling thriller writer Ann Cleeves is helping to fund a project to show how reading can boost health.

The author is celebrating the 21st anniversary of her detective character Vera Stanhope – played by Brenda Blethyn in the hit ITV series Vera – by supporting a reading scheme being piloted in the North East of England.

Cleeves initiated the scheme, and has donated funds towards the pilot, which she launched in Durham.

Vera filming in Tynemouth
Brenda Blethyn, who plays DCI Vera Stanhope, and Kenny Doughty, who plays DS Aiden Healy, on set during filming of ITV crime drama Vera in Tynemouth, North Tyneside (Owen Humpheys/PA)

It involves recruiting nine Community Reading Workers in six pilot areas – County Durham, Gateshead, North Tyneside, Northumberland and South Tees, which covers Middlesbrough, and Redcar and Cleveland.

Their role will be to help people access stories – including audio books – to help their health and wellbeing.

Those who could benefit include anyone experiencing anxiety, stress, chronic pain or depression, as well as socially isolated people.

The workers could also refer children, young people or even whole families.

The crime writer, who lives in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, is sure that reading and stories can boost health.

BFI and Radio Times Television Festival
Ann Cleeves created the Vera character more than 21 years ago (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

She said: “Over the years, I’ve seen how understanding and confidence grows when people are encouraged to explore their experiences through story.

“It gives a fresh perspective. A distance. Anger and resentment can dissipate.

“And because we’re sharing a bit of ourselves when we’re talking about books, friendships develop.

“It has been more than 21 years since my detective character Vera Stanhope first appeared in the Crow Trap.

“Vera has been good to me, but I wouldn’t have had the tools to write Vera if libraries hadn’t allowed me to read widely.

“So I decided to mark Vera’s 21st anniversary by giving a birthday present to the region that created her – by suggesting and sponsoring this Reading for Wellbeing project.”

She feels the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns has made the reading project even more relevant.

Professor Peter Kelly, Public Health England North East Centre Director, said: “The generosity and commitment of Ann Cleeves in collaboration with local authorities and the North East public health community has made this unique scheme possible.

“In just a short space of time, and in the shadow of a pandemic, everyone has pulled together to ensure that the seeds of an idea first sown by Ann in 2020 have now come to fruition.

“We know reading and the sanctuary of libraries is a lifeline for many, and not just to access books, but to reduce loneliness and improve literacy, all of which play an important role in improving mental health and wellbeing and reducing health inequalities.”

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