The delivery of eight community managed libraries (CML) across South Staffordshire is an innovative partnership between Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (MPFT) and Staffordshire County Council (SCC) which mobilises and supports volunteers from local communities to deliver a refreshed library offer building upon libraries as trusted and safe spaces to develop additional activities and events that promote mental and physical wellbeing relevant to the needs of that community.
This is a unique partnership between a local authority and a health provider that was initiated through a procurement exercise and is based on the county council providing the buildings and books and the Trust recruiting and supporting local volunteers who, with some professional support from the council, deliver a full library service and wellbeing development programme tailored to the needs of their community.
The libraries also embrace the Libraries Connected Universal Offer of information, reading, digital, culture, learning and health to improve the health and wellbeing of local communities with services that include self-help reading, creative activities and volunteering. Over 250 volunteers have been recruited and trained across South Staffordshire since the programme began in May 2016 ensuring these valued local resources are able to thrive.
In line with the aim of the Sustainability and Transformation Partnership to enable people to live well and independently for longer and mindful of MPFT’s mission to make life better for our communities, delivering better health, better care in partnership, we are working with local government to provide an innovative approach to services in the community, managing resources collectively and delivering services more efficiently. In partnership with SCC, MPFT provides eight CMLs offering volunteering opportunities, community involvement and wellbeing activities, supporting de-stigmatisation of mental health. The team includes community support officers from SCC library services; a CMLs coordinator and social inclusion navigators from MPFT and local volunteers who deliver services day to day.
The overall target is to achieve sustainability through a successful partnership by keeping eight CMLs open thus maintaining and building community capacity. Most beneficial changes in communities happen through the process of engagement; communities need capacity to engage effectively and the challenge is therefore to build that capacity. Providing opportunities and support in an easily accessible and nonstigmatising environment offers opportunity to support mental wellbeing either directly or indirectly and is valued by library users and volunteers.
Membership numbers for all eight libraries have increased since the partnership began in 2016. There has also been an increase in the number of applications to become members of MPFT’s NHS foundation trust. 250 plus local residents are volunteering and both helping to keep their libraries open and having a direct influence on how those libraries are relevant to their local community needs.
We have seen an improvement in the range and number of associated activities and events that the libraries offer such as job clubs, dementia awareness, reminiscence, mindfulness, well person checks, yoga and diabetic eye screening. Measureable impacts include enhanced community engagement through coffee mornings, afternoon teas, craft workshops and school visits supporting improved engagement with other services provided such as the health offer. A library is a safe, non-stigmatised space that people are happy to visit.
Many of the libraries are in deprived areas with few community facilities available, by taking a flexible attitude to the space, services can be run out of library hours, and using any part of the building, providing enhanced opportunities to engage with difficult to reach groups, for example Baswich library working with people with English as a second language.
Partnership working has spread through network meetings with representatives from all 23 Community Managed Libraries (CML); attendance at the CML National Conference; individual library steering group meetings and Trust CML Project and Operational Group meetings. All have enhanced the project by enabling other departments and organisations to take advantage of improved partnership working such as job clubs based in libraries which improves footfall and enhances employability of the local community.
Departments within the Trust have benefited from access to useable space to deliver telephone support, for example the Wellbeing Services uses Glascote library and Children’s Services now loan books for their reception areas which previously had little or no material for service users. Regular project meetings take place with representation from various Trust departments including Business Development, Health and Safety and Finance. Activities at the libraries are proactively reported to local media and shared with MPFT staff and stakeholders in regular publications.
In addition, library volunteers have been recognised in local award schemes such as a village scarecrow competition; Council Young Person of the Year; Brewood Library, South Staffordshire Community Impact Award 2018 for their involvement with the CMLs. Each library also compiles and circulates regular impact reports.
The collaboration between the local authority and MPFT is an innovative solution offering many additional benefits. Supporting eight CMLs in Staffordshire has enabled the Trust to be a part of a wider network of community groups with similar passions to ensure the future of libraries. MPFT sees the benefit of engaging with local communities to promote the very fabric of personal wellbeing.
Applying Virginia Mason Production Systems Methodologies has resulted in a streamlined approach enabling support to the volunteers being resourced from income raised at each library as opposed to a significant contract value, ensuring ongoing sustainability1 . Libraries have also benefited from MPFT’s lean approach and have undergone environmental audit and improvement.
Trust staff outreaching into the libraries and taking an active positive approach to service delivery closer to the communities it serves has paid dividends, this includes a psychological therapy service delivering in the heart of the community. Anecdotal feedback from library members has positively complimented the friendliness and helpfulness of volunteers and describes the environment as much improved since the partnership began.
Partnership meetings take place from strategic level to volunteer level. Progress is reported into Trust Board of Directors annually. SCC produces Annual Reports for each Community Managed Library which are submitted to the SCC Board. Each library has its own steering group made up of volunteers and in each case are encouraged to develop their library services in line with the needs and wants of their local communities. Each library offers a different mix of groups and activities and engages with their own stakeholders such as schools and community groups.
Volunteers actively promote library services in the community and respond to feedback, for example regarding opening hours – Holmcroft holding a consultation. They also work to support their local communities, providing home reading service and supporting community initiatives such as the Heart of Hednesford artisan market.
Involvement has been at the centre of the partnership since initial engagement events were held to explain the principle of community managed libraries. Launch events at each library and subsequent first birthday events welcomed local people, Trust non executive directors and Governor Members, local councillors and local voluntary groups to meet volunteers and find out about groups and activities as well as core library services.