Funding for borough's libraries will provide projects to tackle loneliness

25 February 2021

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Libraries Service has successfully received funding from the Reading Agency to deliver a reading befriending programme that helps to start conversations and connect people who are vulnerable, isolated and at risk of loneliness.

Reading Friends brings people together to read, share stories, meet new friends, and have fun, tackling the big life challenge of social isolation.

The Reading Agency has stated that by May 2020, 41 per cent of UK adults reported feeling lonelier since lockdown, and one in three had not had a meaningful conversation in the last week. 

By November 2020, 39 per cent of UK adults said they have not had a meaningful conversation with someone in a fortnight, a third worry something will happen to them and no one will notice, and two in five people said loneliness is having a negative impact on their mental health.
Enabled by a £3.5 million award by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), the Reading Agency’s new campaign Read, Talk, Share will expand the already successful Reading Friends and Reading Well programmes.

The vision of Cheshire West and Chester Council is to reduce inequalities, increase years of healthy life and promote mental and physical health and wellbeing for everyone in the borough.

The Library Service initially plans to enhance its already successful ‘Not A Reading Group’ with the Library Team at Storyhouse.  Launched in January 2020 face-to-face, the group moved online during the pandemic.  

Not a Reading Group is not a book group as you know it.  It currently meets informally every Friday at 11am currently on Zoom.  There is no required reading and they don’t discuss a specific title.  Instead they talk about the books they have read, those that they’ve enjoyed and those they would recommend to others. They believe escaping into the world of books is a very good way to spend an hour. 

If you’re interested in joining please email librarynotifications@cheshiresharedservices@gov.uk.

Plans are also underway to set up a new Reading Friends online book club, a befriending programme, as well as supporting the Home Library Service. There is potential to lend digital devices to those Home Library service clients with preloaded eBooks and eAudiobooks. Training and support would be given and there would also be the opportunity for a follow-up telephone conversation to discuss their selected reads.

Reading Well supports people on their journey towards better mental health by making helpful books recommended by health experts easily accessible to readers of all ages.  The Reading Agency is working closely with every library service across England to provide access to the carefully designed reading lists: Topics explored include mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy; coping with grief, anxiety, depression, and stress; understanding bullies, body dysmorphia, ADHD, autism, and OCD; and much more. Books from each list are available to borrow physically and through the e-lending service.
  • 90 per cent of Reading Well users said they found their book helpful for understanding and managing their conditions.
  • 89 per cent of responding health practitioners agreed that it helped to support people outside of consultation time.
Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Councillor Louise Gittins said: "This is great news.  Our Libraries are at the heart of local communities and are a real lifeline to so many people who may feel lonely or isolated. With another tough few months ahead of us, I am delighted that the funding we have been allocated will help ensure that people of all ages are prioritising their mental health."

Karen Napier, CEO of The Reading Agency, said: "Tackling loneliness and supporting mental health and wellbeing across the country has always been a priority for The Reading Agency. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the country's mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing cannot be underestimated, and our Reading Well and Reading Friends programmes are perfectly placed to assist the nation in recovery.”

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