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Libraries: Opportunities for All (LOFE) projects - how are they doing?

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In December 2016 DCMS and the Taskforce launched a £4 million fund to support projects that develop innovative library service activity to benefit disadvantaged people and places in England. Awards were made in March this year, so projects have now been underway for 6 months.

For Libraries Week, we thought it was a good opportunity to write to the 30 different projects, across 46 library services and find out what progress they were making.

Here's what a selection of the projects are up to:


Barnsley libraries plan to enable mobile access to technology for a targeted group of local residents at high risk of digital and social exclusion. The first portable digital kit is going to be loaned to its first group in the coming weeks. They are a charity who deal with young people and mental health, and they are hoping to create videos highlighting this to raise awareness with a YouTube channel.

Filming and processing equipment being prepared to be loaned.
Filming and processing equipment being prepared to be loaned. Photo credit: Barnsley libraries

East Sussex

LOFE funding has enabled East Sussex libraries to deliver Advantage East Sussex, a portfolio of projects including establishing 2 successful Code Clubs with over 20 children attending. The library service has also built links with partners to develop a Wellbeing box to support both individuals and groups, which have been so popular they are producing more to meet demand.

East Sussex’s wellbeing boxes.
East Sussex’s wellbeing boxes. Photo credit: East Sussex libraries

Librarians have been building partnerships with a local project supporting refugee, asylum seeker and new migrants, where they are running weekly rhymetime sessions to support pre-school children in improving their English, and school-readiness.

Advantage East Sussex is also supporting those with visual impairments with both equipment and training sessions, with over 30 visually impaired users accessing the service already. They are also running IT For You sessions, aimed at increasing digital literacy amongst job seekers, with several customers being able to apply for jobs online for the first time.


Merton’s project is to enhance its services for young people in the borough. So far, proactive engagement work has commenced with high schools, and all of the young people in the first few years of high school are signed up as library members and are participating in a tailored reading challenge.

Over the summer, a wide ranging consultation exercise has been undertaken to gather young people’s thoughts on public libraries and to get a sense of the wider cultural services that could potentially be delivered in libraries. This information is now feeding into a set of workshops that will involve the development of a new cultural offer in libraries in Merton developed with young people and working with those furthest from cultural engagement. The funding also enabled enhancement works at the Arts Space in Wimbledon Library that have already been completed, and the new Arts Space at Mitcham Library will open in a few weeks’ time with an evening event featuring London’s Young People’s Laureate, Caleb Femi.


The team in Sandwell ran 24 ‘TechPlay’ sessions (robotics, Virtual Reality, 3D printing) over the summer holiday period at six of their libraries, and over 2,000 children attended.

Councillor Richard Marshall and Robert Millward, from LearnPlay Foundation film department, took part in the TechPlay sessions.
Councillor Richard Marshall and Robert Millward, from LearnPlay Foundation film department, took part in the TechPlay sessions. Photo credit: Sandwell Council

The innovative state-of-the-art sessions were delivered in partnership with the LearnPlay Foundation. Children aged eight and above used and learned about the latest technology, including virtual reality headsets, iPad tablets, 3D doodler pens and robotic kits. Sessions will be offered again during the October half-term holidays.

One delighted mum said: “Tech Play was a brilliant session, and kept my boys entertained. Even my toddler was able to have a go on the Robotic section and soon mastered the technology. We will definitely come again!”

West Sussex

West Sussex libraries’ Digital Library Plus project, which aims to deliver tailored digital support to specific target groups - older people experiencing isolation, jobseekers lacking basic IT skills and adults with learning disabilities - is moving from the planning stage to prototyping. They have some tablets and have curated some digital content for at least one of their target groups (older people experiencing isolation), and library staff are now engaged with individuals and organisations to deliver this and learn from feedback.

An early highlight from the project has been the launch event which involved a dozen or so partner organisations meeting library staff who demonstrated some key digital services. They were delighted to include the award-winning author Jenn Ashworth as a keynote speaker who inspired the audience on the power of books, reading and libraries to change people’s lives for the better – speaking all at once as a reader, librarian and now author.

Lineup of people at the launch event
At the launch event: (from left to right) Councillor Debbie Kennard, West Sussex County Council Cabinet Member responsible for libraries, Jenn Ashworth, author, Lesley Sim, Information Services Manager, West Sussex County Council and Rachel North, Director for Communities, West Sussex County Council. Photo credit: Michael Faulkner


Nottingham City Libraries are looking to engage with young people through the medium of gaming. Storysmash gives young people the chance to create their own branching narrative / 'choose your own adventure' stories, with the emphasis on their creativity as opposed to “coding” knowledge or ability. They use freely available software: Twine. The project also delivers masterclass sessions where guests such as Ian Livingstone, Gabrielle Kent, Rob Yescombe and Charlie Higson share their experiences.

Charlie Higson at the launch of Storysmash.
Charlie Higson at the launch of Storysmash. Photo credit: Nottingham City council

Storysmash was launched by Charlie Higson on 24 June. There was a programme of 5 masterclasses between July-October on topics including videogame writing, careers in gaming, and creating characters for your game, plus weekly workshops in 5 of Nottingham’s libraries. The project will also feature as part of Gamecity 2017.


Staffordshire County Council is working to transform Children’s Services to reduce the number of children entering the local authority system. Their project: Ready Steady Library, supports a priority in East Staffordshire aiming to increase the number of children accessing universal education provision, reduce referral rates to services and improve school readiness. Ready Steady Library is contributing to this through:

  • co-creating resources to support the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum
  • workshops for families to support use of resources
  • training for library and early years staff to use the resources in libraries and early years settings
  • signposting parents to other education provision

Over the summer, 20 critical friends have been recruited to the project, including representatives from Early years, Polish Association, Islamic group, OFSTED, Children’s Centres, parents, adult and young volunteers and health. Their role is to be part of a focus group giving feedback on the resources, engaging the community and acting as observers and advisers and, so far, there have been 10 focus groups.

Early Years artist, Jacqui Shankly has been busy creating the content for the Early Years Foundation stages boxes and illustrator Steve Smallman has developed a woodland theme for the characters. There is a different animal for each strand and 3 animals for each age group. The character sketches have been well received by the Project Board and Project Team and the focus groups.

To date, the project has enabled the library service to make new, and strengthen existing, partnerships. It is encouraging families to visit the library and, over the duration of the project, will help parents to give their child the best start in life and help their child reach their full potential ready for school.


Bradford libraries’ Immersive Literacy project is about increasing the number of children and adults with special educational needs and disabilities accessing the library service, by offering an innovative approach to engage non-literate audiences to age appropriate well-known literature. Library staff will be trained on disability awareness, how to work with the groups or 1:1, with specially commissioned sets of sensory and immersive adaptations of books. And also how to create new and existing story sacks to include a sensory element.

The project manager has planned three story times in the City Library to take place during Libraries Week. Two of these will be with younger children from a City Centre Primary School, St Stephens, which has a high proportion of children from disadvantaged families. The children are coming to the hear, feel, touch and smell ‘The Great Dogs Bottom Swap’ by Peter Bently. The children have special education needs. In the afternoon, there will be a group of 16-25 year olds from Henshaws Specialist College, who work with young people living with a disability, helping them to progress and live life the way they want, at home and hopefully in the workplace. They will be introduced to Dylan Thomas’s ‘Under Milk Wood’ through the immersive sensory story sack.

An immersive storytime involving bubbles.
An immersive storytime involving bubbles. Photo credit: Purple Patch Arts

There are further sessions planned during Children’s Book Week in November, using Lauren Child's amazing book: ‘I Will Not Ever Never Eat A Tomato.’


Plymouth Libraries project ran during the summer holidays - and we’ll publish a full post from them soon with more details about what went on. Every Wednesday in August, they gave away a free, healthy lunch (provided by CATERed, Plymouth’s premier school meals provider), and delivered an exciting programme of cultural and learning activities. They worked with a wide range of organisations and individuals such as the Theatre Royal, Music Makers, the National Marine Aquarium, author Tom Palmer and author/illustrator Emma Carlisle. Alongside this, they promoted books and reading through the Summer Reading Challenge, offered coding and digital making sessions and craft activities.

They had 5,000 visits to the three venues during August and hundreds took part in related events and activities. Three thousand healthy lunches were given away, helping many parents and carers who would otherwise struggle to feed their children during the school holidays – as the head of libraries reported: “we really did feed minds and tummies!”

Activities during Lunch at the Library.
Activities during Lunch at the Library. Photo credit: Little Red Book Photography


During Library Week, Bootle Library in Sefton is showcasing ways in which libraries can be used to tackle social isolation and build communal wellbeing through its Human Library project, bringing artists and creatives together to host and run a series of events where everything is free and everyone is welcome

Preparing for a One Pot lunch
Preparing for a One Pot lunch. Photo credit: Sefton libraries

The project aims to recruit volunteers, who will offer the gift of the hand, the head and the heart, supporting the activities and the participants. The volunteers will learn new skills and gain confidence, which will allow them to take the project forward once the funding ends.

The programme includes:

  • the One Pot Project with Fairland Collective, which has seen the local community come together to make and eat lunch around the table
  • Never Too Late, a chair exercise and health group
  • an event with Sefton OPERA
  • the People’s Bureau, a skill share workshop, encouraging the community to share their talents with their neighbours
  • a family screen-printing workshop
  • a podcasting series


Telford and Wrekin’s Family Code Club project is progressing well. Several very successful audience development sessions took place over the summer with families in their chosen code club locations ahead of the formal launch of the clubs this month (October). They have received their new equipment, including Raspberry Pi’s and a 3D printer, and are looking forward to watching families learn how to use it and improving their skills over the coming weeks.

Family at a session in Southwater Library in August.
Family at a session in Southwater Library in August. Photo credit: Telford & Wrekin libraries


Finally, as you’ll have seen from our blog posts covering workshops to share experiences, a number of projects to create makerspaces were allocated LOFE funding. In the concluding paragraphs in this post, we hear from Hull, Redbridge, Stockton, Devon and Warwickshire.


The rooms to be transformed into a makerspace have been stripped out ready for developing the space.

Future makerspace
Future makerspace. Photo credit: Hull libraries

The stakeholder group have met, and ideas discussed are around networking with partners to extend the breadth of the Makerspace offer, eg including local craft/arts businesses, new starter businesses and local entrepreneur involvement. Discussions have taken place regarding the specifications of equipment and the level of activity that can be achieved in the early phases; topics include whether they are looking at taster level equipment or more hi-tech. Finally, they are working on developing links to the business community, eg KCOM to help develop the bandwidth and support.


Lab Central opened to the public on 17 June as part of Tech Ilford Day, where local families were able to take part in a range of creative tech workshops. They received nearly 2,000 visitors to the library that day, with over 200 children actively taking part in a workshop. A video of the day can be accessed here: (click the little cc icon if you need sub-titles)

Since the launch, Lab Central has proven to be popular with people of all ages, has attracted new customers to Redbridge Central Library, and has generating really positive feedback about the library service. The regular programme of workshops for children and young people, includes:

  • Raspberry Jam sessions
  • songwriting with iPads
  • summer radio courses
  • programming with Minecraft in the Raspberry Pi
  • 3D printing using a 3D pen
  • paper circuit sessions
  • coding sessions using Sonic Pi on the BBC micro:bit
  • weekly code clubs

Lab Central has revitalised an under-utilised space within the library into a vibrant and well used part of the library, which works really well with the rest of the library when it isn’t being used for makerspace activities. The team has observed more young people using the space outside of programmed Lab Central activities, as the space now looks more inviting and exciting. They are also especially excited that so many girls are accessing the programme of activities.


Building work is well under way to construct the two new “Innovation Stations” in the Central Libraries at Stockton and Thornaby. In Thornaby, work on the new "sensory space" commenced this month after permission was received from their landlord to make the changes to the library.

Work underway in Thornaby
Work underway in Thornaby. Photo credit: Stockton libraries

The image shows the room they are developing which will house projection facilities, aroma generators and a "wind machine"! The supplier will make the first fit out in October. Work has just commenced in Stockton to create the glass "box" which will become the new maker space and fablab. They are in the process of buying 3D printers, scanner and digital cutter alongside a range of specialist software to allow them to run animation, coding and photographic workshops. The team is now working with partners on the programming of the space and looking at the offers they will be able to deliver.


The planned Fab Lab in Barnstaple still has the builders in, but work is due to complete in the next few weeks. In the meantime, the team has been doing some taster events and workshops, and designing courses to ensure they make the most of what will be a fantastic facility for the library and the wider area. You can see what they're up to, and the tweets they've been putting out here: FabLab Barnstaple.


Warwickshire is another project with plans to create makerspaces. Their new spaces will offer local communities unique access to technology and facilities for exploring ideas and creating things in new ways. This will allow people of all ages and backgrounds, not only to create together, but also to socialise and learn. Makerspaces will promote educational achievement, economic growth and the wellbeing of disadvantaged communities in northern Warwickshire.

The next stage of their plans is to hold an Advocacy Day in November to showcase their ideas with interested parties. The project manager is currently “crafting interesting and fun sessions for Virtual Reality, Animation, Digital Sewing, Robotics and Coding and taking delivery of some of their high tech kit.“

What next?

The reports above give a flavour of the wide range of projects going on around the country. We’ll continue to publish more in depth reports as projects reach their climax or pass a major milestone. There are lots more makerspaces to open, several projects where young people are using local resources to create local stories, projects with writers in residence and many more.

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