Pioneering libraries project tackling isolation praised in national report

19 July 2017

Norfolk’s pioneering library project to tackle community isolation has been recognised in a national report released today by Arts Council England.

Norfolk County Council’s Library and Information Service has been praised for its Libraries Loneliness project. The report, Stand By Me, looked at the contribution public libraries make to the wellbeing of older people and picked out five great national examples of schemes making a real difference.

The library project forms part of the council’s wider In Good Company campaign, which aims to change people’s behaviour by promoting positive ways that people can connect with their neighbours and the local community.

The report praised the library project for aligning their activities with the wider strategic priorities of Norfolk County Council, where Managing Director Wendy Thomson challenged services to do more to tackle loneliness.

In Good Company launched last winter, and the library service quickly got on board, looking at what it offered to people and how it could help to meet its responsibility to help tackle loneliness through its 47 libraries and eight mobile libraries.

With a population of almost 900,000 residents, one in five people aged over 65 in Norfolk are believed to suffer from loneliness.

Since the libraries started their part of the project last November, they have almost doubled the number of activities for older people, from 57 to 113.

Embracing the need to tackle the problem, libraries changed their approach. They are now confident that library staff, community groups and other organisations can signpost a lonely person to a library, confident that they will get good quality and effective support. This consistent offer includes a warm and welcoming atmosphere where staff listen and interact with visitors, weekly tea and coffee sessions and a timetable of regular activities.

These activities now include:
Just a Cuppa- tea and conversation now available at 17 of Norfolk’s libraries. As well as providing company and the opportunities for friendships, it also allows staff to identify signs of loneliness and offer support.

Colour Me Calm- run at half of Norfolk’s libraries, colouring sessions where participants can talk as little or as much as they like in a relaxed atmosphere.

Knit and Natter- Run in half of Norfolk’s libraries, in partnership with Norfolk Knitters and Stitchers and run mainly by volunteers. The group has secured Lottery funding for materials and some items are then sold by the International Aid Trust.

Scrabble- Sessions held at 15 libraries, with the King’s Lynn group proving so popular sessions are now held daily and strong friendships have been formed.

Staff throughout the service have been responsible for increasing the number of local sessions, based on their knowledge of the needs and demands in their towns and villages.

Feedback from the Loneliness Project has been overwhelming, with many isolated community members citing their local library as transforming their social life and helping them to feel part of a community again.

Jan Holden, Head of Norfolk Library and Information Service, said: “It is really fantastic that the great work our libraries do to support communities has been recognised by Arts Council England. It gives other libraries across the UK a good example of a great project.

“Our libraries are places where vulnerable people will always be welcome and our staff are brilliant at ensuring our service responds to their needs.”

Councillor Margaret Dewsbury, Chairman of Norfolk County Council's Communities Committee, said: "It is great that our loneliness project is leading the way nationally and helping to ensure that people in our Norfolk communities feel less isolated."

In Good Company seeks to focus on promoting the wealth of events, activities and services in Norfolk that are actively working to combat loneliness among older residents, give ideas to smaller groups and communities who are looking to set up initiatives locally, as well as linking people to volunteering opportunities. The Norfolk Directory is the County Council’s online resource which enables people to access this information: https://www.norfolk.gov.uk/norfolk-directory

The campaign has just launched an In Good Company ‘kite mark’ for the county – with a series of steps that communities, businesses and organisations can work towards to show how they are ‘In Good Company’ and aiming to drive out loneliness in the county.

Pop along to your local library for details of the events in your area, or visit www.norfolk.gov.uk/yourlocallibrary 

The full Stand By Me report from Arts Council England is available here 



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