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Suffolk Libraries mental health project shortlisted for libraries award

A pioneering mental health project run in seven Suffolk Libraries has been shortlisted for an award.

The Open Space project has been announced as a finalist in the social category of the EDGE Libraries Conference Awards which are held in Edinburgh as part of an annual libraries conference. The awards recognise and promote outstanding library-based initiatives which celebrate the value of libraries across the UK.

Open Space sessions are co-facilitated by Suffolk Libraries with Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust and community mental health support and housing providers (Julian Support, Richmond Fellowship and Suffolk Mind).

Open Space is a key element of Suffolk Libraries’ mental health & wellbeing information service, known as New Chapters. The sessions were launched in Ipswich Library in 2014 and now groups run in seven libraries: Bury St Edmunds, Felixstowe, Haverhill, Ipswich, Newmarket, Stowmarket and Sudbury, with two more planned to launch in the next year. The sessions received around 3,600 attendances last year.

The sessions aim to provide an open and welcoming environment, where people can discuss any issue of mental health or wellbeing. The groups are held weekly, in an open area of the library so people can come and go as they please and there is no sense of being hidden from the community or the pressure of walking into a room.

An independent evaluation by mental health research organisation The McPin Foundation has shown that people value Open Space and feel it helps them socialise and share experiences. It has also shown that the group being held in the neutral environment of the library could be helping de-stigmatise mental health and enabling more people to access support.

This is the fourth time Suffolk Libraries has been shortlisted in the past six years. It has won twice; for the Stradbroke Library Post Office project and the Get Connected campaign to promote online library services.

Suffolk Libraries mental health and wellbeing coordinator Sarah Lungley said: "We are really pleased to have been shortlisted for this award. Open Space groups have developed and increased over the last year, and between all of the partners involved there has been a lot of hard work and dedication to Open Space and making a difference to those who attend.

"Each Open Space group is facilitated by a mixture of staff, including psychologists, mental health support workers, library staff and peer mentor volunteers, and we believe this combination of partnership working and providing a safe, neutral environment is helping to provide vital support in the community."

Each Open Space group runs weekly for two hours; anyone is welcome to attend and there is no need to register. See our Open Space page or contact your nearest participating library for more information and timetables.