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A sense of community

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[Editor’s note: these 2 projects were shared by colleagues from Hampshire and Norfolk]

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Through providing free access to government information and digital services, employment assistance, learning and more, libraries play an invaluable role in community members’ lives. They can also reduce social exclusion, disadvantage and isolation by knowing their users and responding to the needs of their community. These 2 examples show how different services are meeting the needs of their users in completely different ways.

Good neighbours in Hampshire

Hampshire libraries run a Good Neighbour schemeGood Neighbours are nominated people - family, friends or neighbours - who select books and deliver them on behalf of someone they know who can’t get to the library. In recognition of the contribution these volunteers make, and in order to support them in providing a good and tailored service to the people they support, library staff assist the nominated person in choosing books and there are no fines are charged on items and free requests for books are allowed.

Library colleagues shared this story, about one participant in the scheme: Nathaniel lives alone and has mobility issues as well as a failing memory. His son, Matthew, visits him fortnightly and has been taking Nathaniel books from the library. A few times Nathaniel has mis-placed books and fines have accrued until the books were been found. Matthew mentioned this to library staff who converted Nathaniel’s ticket to the Good Neighbour scheme.

Matthew also signed up to email notification, so he receives advance notice if a book is likely to be overdue so that he knows what to look for if it has been mis-placed. As a result, there is less pressure on Matthew to select books and to keep an eye on when they are due back and Nathaniel continues to enjoy his reading.

‘Chat and chill’ sessions in Suffolk

Krystal Vittles from Suffolk libraries shared a programme they run which helps the more vulnerable members of their community.

The 'Chat and chill' model is aimed at women who are newly arrived to Britain and whose English is very limited. It's not an ESOL course; it's a group to help women acclimatise to British culture and it equips them with everyday skills such as making doctors appointments, how to chat with your child's teacher, etc. There's a whole range of soft and hard skills gently taught through a really informal programme with brilliant resources on hand to support this. Also, it's about helping these ladies make friends as it's an isolating and lonely thing to come to a new country.

Women who have been coming a long time, who are then quite confident, become ambassadors for this in communities and help spread the word to people who might need it or bring them along. For example, they help with keeping this group on schools' radars who often see mothers who need that support. It's free and we only ask for a few pence donation for the tea, coffee and biscuits on offer.

As it's women only, it's seen as a safe space to discuss issues which worry them and proper signposting to appropriate services takes place. In addition, these women may make use of our Warm Handover scheme (see below) so they only have to tell their story once.

The Warm Handover scheme is a partnership of organisations, including Suffolk libraries, working to help people find the support they need. As part of this partnership, if one organisation believes someone would benefit from the services of another organisation, they can make referrals. This means people do not have to repeat their stories to multiple organisations and also helps them access services they might not have been aware of.

The ‘chat and chill’ programme began at Ipswich County Library with Daniela, who herself is Romanian, and it's spreading outwards across the county, particularly in places of high economic migration such as Haverhill, Lowestoft and Brandon.

Examples from overseas

Queens Library (South Hollis Branch) in New York run (amongst other things) a basic English class and a gardening club. Here they talk about when the two came together to learn something new.

Libraries at the heart of their communities

Both the programmes above illustrate how libraries understand and respond to the needs of their local communities. If other library services run schemes which they would like to share, please contact us either via the comments on this post, or directly via and we will share your stories in future posts.

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