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'I've witnessed the impact that it has had' – How Open Space is making a difference

A specialist mental health research charity has found that a successful library-based project is helping to combat loneliness in Suffolk.

Loneliness Awareness Week (17 June – 21 June) aims to reduce the stigma around loneliness. According to findings from the McPin Foundation, a specialist mental health research charity who have been evaluating our Open Space groups, the sessions have had real benefits for people experiencing loneliness and mental health difficulties.

Rachel Temple, research officer at McPin reported: "Having spent some time at Open Space, I’ve witnessed the impact that it has had for people from all walks of life. I spoke with various people who told me about how Open Space has changed their life. For them, simply knowing that Open Space is there, every week, at the same time and at the same place, makes a real difference.

"When you are lonely and isolated, there are not always readily available places to go. Open Space is special because it is readily available, every week, to anyone who wants to join in."

Sarah Lungley, Suffolk Libraries mental health and wellbeing coordinator, believes the sessions are making a difference: "Loneliness affects people of all ages and having a mental health issue or illness can really change the way we see ourselves and how we interact with other people.

"It’s important that we all do our best to support our friends, family, colleagues and neighbours. As human beings we all need to feel connected and part of a community, and I truly believe Open Space has helped some people achieve this."

Joanna Ringrose, a chartered clinical psychologist from NSFT, who helped create the Open Space groups, also commented: "Open Space’s strengths lie in that you can come and go as you like and participate as much or as little as you like, no demands, no expectations, no targets. There is permission to be yourself alongside the invitation to be amongst others, allowing a sense of acceptance but also belonging."

The weekly drop-in sessions run at eight libraries: Bury St Edmunds, Chantry, Felixstowe, Haverhill, Ipswich County, Newmarket, Stowmarket and Sudbury.

The sessions are relaxed, friendly and open to anyone. They are co-facilitated by a partnership of Suffolk Libraries, NSFT (Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust), Julian Support, Richmond Fellowship and Suffolk Mind.

The latest Open Space group to launch was a group for young people aged 11-17 at Chantry Library. Any young people experiencing loneliness are welcome to come along to the group on Thursdays from 3:30pm to 5:30pm.