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Books, reading, community and connection – lifeline for isolated new parents and carers in Devon and Torbay

Posted on 04 Feb 2021

mother on phone, holding babyLibraries Unlimited launch Reading Friends mental health campaign

New parents and carers who may be struggling with isolation and mental health problems during the pandemic are being given extra support by Libraries Unlimited.

The charity, which runs Devon and Torbay’s library services, is launching the Reading Friends initiative under the Reading Agency ‘Read Talk Share’ 2021 campaign umbrella. The Reading Agency wants to promote the use of books and reading to help mental health.

Karen Huxtable, Senior Supervisor for Development, Exeter Library, Libraries Unlimited said: “Lockdown has left many people in communities across Devon and Torbay feeling isolated and mentally vulnerable, and we believe libraries can play an important role in reaching out to them, promoting positivity and wellbeing.

“Childcare responsibilities can leave new parents and carers in particular need of extra support and contact. We want people to have a safe place and trusted group where they can share how they’re doing and ask for support. We have seen over the years in our book groups, bounce and rhyme groups and many other initiatives how books and reading can start conversations and connect with people who are lonely and isolated.”

The scheme will run across all 54 libraries in Devon and Torbay. Reading Friends participants will get to chat with a member of staff on a one to one telephone call. There is no pressure to read a book before the telephone session and the member of staff will support the discussion which could include chatting about magazine articles, news items or a book. While the reading is a focus, the Reading Friends scheme is a way to meet new people and chatting is encouraged. Once libraries reopen and social distancing is relaxed, Reading Friends groups will meet in person with toys and books for the children. Books will be delivered by Choose and Collect at local libraries, or downloaded as eBooks.

It’s also hoped to link up authors with the groups and individual customers, and to eventually develop a podcast from author events.

Anyone wanting to join the Reading Friends Group or find out more should email readingfriendsgroup@librariesunlimited.org.uk

Kate Mackenzie, Service Development Manager for Libraries Unlimited, said: “Our libraries in Devon and Torbay already offer a range of health and wellbeing support to the people and communities of Devon. There’s the Reading Well scheme, a collection of novels and non-fiction books about mental health, and the Home Library Service for those that cannot access physical libraries and may be isolated in rural communities. But lockdown and the pandemic have presented an even more acute need for connection, and our staff are working quickly to roll out new initiatives that will have real impact.”

The Reading Agency has a £3.5 million Government grant from Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) to help local libraries launch their own well-being programmes of support in the wake of the pandemic. It is also gifting a new collection of books and eBooks to Libraries Unlimited under the Reading Well scheme.

Karen Napier, CEO The Reading Agency, said: “The Reading Agency is extremely grateful to receive this funding from DCMS. Tackling loneliness and mental health issues across the country has always been a priority for us and sits at the heart of our mission of addressing life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading. 2020 has demonstrated that our work is needed more than ever, and this funding means that we are able to support the important work of every public library in England. This feels like a real vote of continued confidence in the role of public libraries and their important contribution to society.”

Libraries Unlimited is the charity responsible for running Devon and Torbay Libraries. It is just one of the facilities in the wide Libraries Unlimited cultural offering.  Find us on Facebook – Libraries Unlimited.

Photo credit: Halfpoint via Canva.com

Libraries Unlimited believes…

…in the unlimited potential of library services to make a positive difference to people’s lives and communities through a shared love of reading and access to high quality information and facilities.