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Haverhill Library outreach work has been reducing loneliness during lockdown

With this week being Loneliness Awareness Week, Suffolk Libraries is highlighting the work it has been doing in Haverhill and other libraries to help ease loneliness during lockdown.

Loneliness Awareness Week (June 15 to 19) is an initiative by the Marmalade Trust, a charity that raises awareness of loneliness and helps people to make new connections. The event was launched four years ago to encourage people to speak about loneliness more openly.

Despite library buildings being closed, library staff have been busy running a vast range of online activities and making calls to older and vulnerable customers to check they’re okay.

Members of Haverhill Library's Top Time group meet up via Zoom. Contributed picture
Members of Haverhill Library's Top Time group meet up via Zoom. Contributed picture

Suffolk Libraries’ Lifeline service has made nearly 5,700 calls to older and vulnerable customers during lockdown.

The service recently received £2,500 of funding from the East of England Coop to enable staff to make more calls.

As well as many regular activities for children and families, libraries have also been running quizzes and discussions on films and books targeted at a broad range of Suffolk residents.

Sarah Lungley, Suffolk Libraries wellbeing manager. Contributed picture
Sarah Lungley, Suffolk Libraries wellbeing manager. Contributed picture

A Suffolk Libraries spokesman said: "A good example of this outreach is at Haverhill Library who have kept in touch with their regular Top Time older people’s group online.

"Library staff realised that their regular Top Time members were missing face-to-face contact, especially as some of them were being shielded.

"They explored various ways of keeping in touch with the group, guiding them through the process of using apps they’d not used before and eventually having success with Zoom.

"The group have since celebrated birthdays and held quizzes together and everyone has made the best of a difficult situation."

Haverhill Library staff members Teresa Bailey and Sam Brassington said: "It is a great thing to be involved in.

"The group is a lot of fun and so supportive of each other.

"We know they are missing seeing each other at the moment and we are so glad that we have been able to continue the meetings on a virtual platform like Zoom."

Group member Peter said: "A marvellous group and I look forward to seeing them for a catch up each week."

Sarah Lungley, Wellbeing Manager said: “Research last year found that several of our key activities tackle social isolation across the county.

"We know our services can make a big difference to people’s mental health and wellbeing. Although lockdown has provided a big challenge, we’ve worked hard to stay connected with people online and on the phone and we know it’s had a significant impact on helping people stay well.

“Although many people are staying in touch online there are still people out there who feel isolated or lonely and the aim of Loneliness Awareness Week is to encourage people to talk about how they feel.”

Southwold Library manager Charlotte Clark has been one of those making the calls.

She said: "The Suffolk Lifeline calls have been a pleasure and it’s lovely to keep in touch with the customers and feel you have made a difference to them.

"Some are just pleased that we are thinking of them, some have welcomed the chance to talk to a friendly voice and some have specific concerns and questions we can answer.”

Other staff have also reported that the Lifeline calls have really made a difference, particularly to those who are feeling isolated:

“So many people have been genuinely touched that we had taken the trouble to contact them during this awful time.”

“J said that the call was a lovely surprise and had made her day! She was chatty and we talked about the support she was getting.

"She said she was 80 per cent okay, and this was such a wonderful thing that Suffolk Libraries were doing.

"She wanted another call from us as she does not speak to anyone much.”

Suffolk Libraries staff have also been helping each other by sharing stories of how they’re coping during lockdown.

You can join in the online discussion using #LetsTalkLoneliness

Suffolk Libraries has published a list of eBooks available from its eLibrary which explore the theme of loneliness. Suffolk Libraries’ New Chapters service has also compiled a list of useful online resources which can help with health and wellbeing issues.

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