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How Suffolk Libraries brings people together

For Loneliness Awareness Week, Suffolk Libraries, the charity which runs the county’s library service, is highlighting the many ways in which it tackles social isolation and improves wellbeing across communities.

Loneliness Awareness Week runs from 13 to 17 June and aims to raise awareness of the impact of loneliness.

Suffolk Libraries is the only library service in the UK to have a mental health and wellbeing service, and over the years we have created initiatives to improve wellbeing such as our Open Space drop-in sessions, the volunteer-run Home Library Service, our Phone a Friend service and many more.

Recent research conducted by the University of Suffolk revealed the significant impact Suffolk Libraries has on community wellbeing, concluding that:

“Suffolk Libraries provides positive environments in which social and mental well-being is supported and enhanced through their facilities and activity groups. Therefore, Suffolk Libraries should continue to provide this support for those within the Suffolk community.”

Long-term loneliness is closely linked to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Our libraries work closely alongside their communities to help improve wellbeing and bring people together, which is why we’re sharing some uplifting feedback on how Suffolk Libraires has helped them.

Audrey Woodley, manager at Haverhill Library, shared a touching story:

“We had a regular Top Time session last week and an old member who has been bedbound for over a year benefited by being able to join in via Teams on a laptop, facilitated by one of our volunteers who went to her home to do this for us.

“She absolutely loved it and was seen blowing kisses and waving at members, then listening to a group sing-a-long.”

Anne Edwards, who volunteers with Glemsford Library, explained how volunteering has helped bring her closer to the community:

“I moved to Glemsford ten years ago and didn’t know anyone. My first thought was to go to the library and ask if they needed help, and was asked if I wanted to join the newly-formed Friends group.

“I can see how valuable and worthwhile everything that happens at the library is. At the regular sessions for older people for example - people tell us what a lifeline it is.

“Volunteering has been incredibly important as it got me involved in village life and helped me make friends”

Jo Wilde, manager at Lowestoft Library, told us how popular their social groups have been:

“Our Lego Club’s getting bigger and bigger, the SEND sessions are getting fuller and fuller. When they come in they’re so glad that we’re here. We’ve got the older people who come back week after week for a bit of social interaction, we’ve got three book groups and a writing group… it just spreads out like ripples on a pond from here out into the community.”

Alex volunteers with the Men’s Group at Chantry Library, who provide a welcoming space and raise awareness of men’s mental health. He said:

“The group has changed my life, it’s a place I go every week to try and give back to the community. It’s a safe space that is open for all men who might need a helping hand or a place to talk… a place where you can say what you feel without being judged and you can be yourself.”

Suffolk Libraries also has a perinatal advice and support service for new and expecting parents. During lockdown, we hosted online coffee mornings for mums and dads to help connect them. Here’s what they had to say:

"Before the group I was barely holding it together, Being able to speak to other mums made everything much easier to handle. I can hand on heart say, just something as simple as Zoom calls gave me the outlet I needed as well as essential advice. I’m a better mum for it.”

“I felt very overwhelmed and lonely. Since I joined the virtual coffee mornings, I have found them extremely valuable and they are now an integral part of my week.”

Suffolk Libraries strives to make life better for people across the county, and independent research has proven that our services make a real difference in improving wellbeing and tackling social isolation.