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​New research highlights the impact of Suffolk Libraries Lifeline service

Research has shone a light on how a new telephone service run by Suffolk Libraries has positively impacted people’s wellbeing during the pandemic.

Suffolk Libraries created Lifeline, supported by Suffolk County Council and the East of England Co-op, as a response to the first lockdown to help lonely and vulnerable library customers. Between March 2020 and July 2020 library staff made over 6,700 calls to ‘check in’ on library customers and have a chat. The reach of the library service’s network enabled staff to focus on older people and those who are particularly isolated or vulnerable. The service has continued during subsequent lockdowns and has now made over 10,000 calls.

The social impact team at Moore Kingston Smith carried out research into Lifeline which calculated an impressive return on investment for the service of over £4 for every £1 spent.

The research also outlined the extraordinary impact of the calls and particularly their ability to create material change for people by delivering the following outcomes:

  • Increased feelings of being cared about, valued and of belonging to the community
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness
  • Improved mood and reduced anxiety
  • Escape from the tough reality leading to increased feelings of respite, improved coping skills and more positive mental health
  • Improved feelings of being connected to the library and its wider community.

The return on investment of over £4 for every £1 spent shows that Lifeline is creating significant social value. This is a way of calculating ‘value’ not in its narrow (financial) sense but in its true sense, recognising the importance of social, environmental and economic wellbeing across communities and lives. It also shows the wider value of libraries and how they have adapted to meet the needs of people across Suffolk.

Bruce Leeke, Chief Executive of Suffolk Libraries, said:

“Libraries really are the beating heart of any community. When we first went into lockdown everyone at Suffolk Libraries was determined to find new ways to reach out to people. We wanted to ensure that people could still benefit from the support that we provide through our network.

“We help people make connections in all sorts of ways by providing access to information, books and entertainment and by creating interaction, conversation and friendship. We soon realised that the value of a simple conversation with another human being, when you’re stuck at home and might not see or speak to another person the whole day, can never be underestimated.

“The idea behind the Lifeline service was a simple one but this research supports the feedback we’ve had from staff and customers – that it really helped people to get through some really tough times. It’s also a tribute to the empathy, skill and resilience of our staff that they were able to quickly adapt and start making these calls.”

Suffolk Libraries staff have shared many examples of the type of calls they’ve been making which demonstrates just how vital one call can make to improving someone’s wellbeing:

“The customer had been scammed out of £50 by telephone. I gave them the action fraud number and advised them to ring their bank. I also made arrangements for her to have a home eye test.”

“The customer said that we care more about her than her own family. She had been hurt after being caught up in a street brawl with some teenage girls and was knocked to the ground. She is so grateful that we care about her wellbeing.”

“I am still calling a regular customer of 93 who has greatly benefited from our calls. It really makes you acutely aware how much human contact is essential for wellbeing. I do think not being able to go out and have some human interaction has really had a detrimental effect on her mental wellbeing. We have great chats and she really looks forward to me calling and she knows my voice well. I have managed to sort her out a weekly rickshaw shop as she can't make it to the food shops very easily.”

Building on the success of Lifeline, Suffolk Libraries has recently launched a new telephone befriending service, Phone a Friend, to reach out to even more vulnerable customers across Suffolk. These regular phone calls connect an isolated person with a volunteer who will form an ongoing relationship with them. Where the Lifeline service is designed to provide short term support during lockdown, Phone a Friend is about a longer term, supportive relationship.

The Lifeline report by Moore Kingston Smith follows their earlier social impact report in 2019 which looked at the social impact of three of Suffolk Libraries core activities.