We are thrilled to reveal the Health and Wellbeing shortlist for our inaugural Libraries Connected Awards. Each of these entries has gone above and beyond expectations during the past, challenging year-and-a-half to maintain and expand upon their library service's offer to the community - below you can read short descriptions of their inspiring work. Huge congratulations to all!
Maxine Goulding, Gail Mallet, Sue Moores & Jane McKelvey, Manchester Libraries
From 4 July 2020, when public libraries were allowed to reopen following the national lockdown, Manchester Libraries introduced an 'age friendly' hour each morning at each of their district libraries.This was specifically for older residents and tied in with their Age Friendly library offer in the city. The dedicated time slot was created to encourage older library users, who may have been feeling particularly vulnerable or anxious in light of the pandemic to have their own programmed space each day.
In the first week it was introduced, 267 residents aged 60 and above accessed the hour across the seven libraries which had partially reopened. This climbed to 507 in the second lockdown and 1291 in the third lockdown during 2021. Since July 2020, 12,266 have made use of the hour. Manchester Libraries have continued to promote this offer following the unlocking of national restrictions to provide a safe and secure environment as part of the core library programme. The service is now looking at extending this to a programme of library access times for the 35,000 residents who are shielding or remain anxious about reengaging with community and cultural activity.
Mandy Grimwood, Suffolk Libraries
Mandy works far and beyond her job description in an area of marked poverty and complex needs. Mandy and her team are quite often the safe place for children with chaotic homes and she provides them with space, a range of activities and a listening ear for concerns. She also works hard for other vulnerable groups to ensure they have a safe space and receive a range of help for their needs. During the pandemic Mandy went above and beyond even this. She could see how badly her community was affected and decided to help lead a change. Working with her friends, Mandy fundraised and created food boxes full of filling, nutritious food (plus fruit and vegetables) and handed these out to homes most in need. Mandy made sure to root her work in 'libraryness' and so also handed out good quality ex-children's stock and activity packs to these families to keep them entertained during the lockdown. She also included items from Suffolk's 'Pride & Periods' service to ensure women's needs were also taken care of.
All of this hard work and kindness has really paid off as this already busy library has exploded with customers since reopening and has brought new families into the space. Some of the learning from Mandy's endeavours has helped Suffolk shape how they are approaching hardship into the future and how they can widen their reach across the county.
Angela Varley, Kirklees Libraries
Since its inception, Angela has been an essential part of the Libraries of Sanctuary (LOS) team, which has worked towards achieving Library of Sanctuary status Angela took a key role in developing and creating a 30-minute introduction to the Libraries of Sanctuary training video which is now required training for all library staff and is available for all Kirklees Council staff.
Angela has also developed and delivers Conversation Café to combat loneliness and promote wellbeing among migrant communities. This offers a relaxed place to make new friends and become more confident in using English. In addition, Angela is an essential member of Kirklees Libraries Reading Friends Project and is enabling Kirklees library staff to build their own skills and confidence to deliver it.
Alex Cunningham-Scott, Somerset Libraries
Alex put her skills and instincts to excellent use in supporting the wider workforce at the height of the pandemic. She provided a listening ear, identifying concerns and working with staff to develop solutions. These included mental health awareness training, hosting informal coffee breaks over Microsoft Teams, and providing advice and advocacy on the need to restart early years activity.
Working with partners including the NHS and Public Health England, Alex coordinated a Health Information Q&A session with a NHS librarian on the theme of using social media as a way of providing members of the public with the tools and awareness to source good quality health information online. This work has had a transformational impact on the service meaning. Our workforce is more resilient and staff are more empowered to provide both a physical and digital offer.
Greenwich Libraries Team working on the GLL Football Library
GLL’s Greenwich Libraries Team have created an innovative charity partnership with social enterprise ball manufacturer Alive and Kicking via the Football Library initiative that has widened the library service's reach in local communities.
Children visiting certain Better libraries can now borrow an ethically-produced football, free of charge, to play with at their local playground or park. Enjoying their own ‘library ball’ brings children together, fosters social and development goals, and breaks down barriers to sports participation. The 2020 pilot scheme in Greenwich spanned three libraries. 400 young people borrowed 80 footballs and benefited from 1,400 hours of physical activity in its first four months. Librarians have noted that young people, when visiting their local library to borrow a ball, have taken the opportunity to access the books, free WiFi, and computers provided.
Following the success of the pilot, the scheme was expanded to 20 GLL-operated libraries in Bromley and Wandsworth in May 2021.
The Death Positive Library Project Team, Vision Redbridge, Kirklees and Newcastle
The Death Positive Library Project takes place across London, Yorkshire and Newcastle in partnership with a research team from the University of Northumbria. Together the team have been promoting the role of libraries as compassionate spaces to support conversations around death, dying and bereavement.
During the pandemic, the team adapted the project which was built for physical library spaces into one suitable for an online environment. It was recognised that more than ever, safe supportive spaces were needed where people could come together and share their experiences - particularly the bereaved. This was achieved through a series of author events, film screenings followed by Q&As, Virtual Death Cafés and the development of a digital app called the Tickets for the Afterlife which will launch in Autumn 2021. The team had to learn new skills quickly and have been a wonderful support to each other across such a wide geographical spread. They diligently review the many books recommendations they receive from people attending the events and are compiling a list of resources that other library services are welcome to access. They also regularly curate collections for their library customers.