[Editor’s note: Christopher Gaynor, Neighbourhood Development Officer, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and Alnaar Clayton, library manager, share a set of projects that illustrate how Mowbray Gardens library is embedded at the heart of its community.]
Mowbray Gardens library is situated in the most deprived ward in the borough of Rotherham and is one of the most deprived wards nationally. We work with a wide range of partners. We do lots of work with new arrivals as well as the existing white British community. The library seeks to bring people together and break down boundaries and stereotypes.
Cuts to the local authority’s funding have impacted the council’s libraries budget and the service has been reduced. Fortunately, we have a community group based here (Mowbray Volunteers & New Arrivals - MVNA) who identify people’s needs and bid for funds to put on classes and activities. We also provide a home to other groups who use our premises to meet – eg. Rotherham Anglo-Polish Group, Feed Our Communities, Afghan Unity Group, Asian Carers’ Group, Visually Impaired Group, Elderly Readers. Education professionals also meet disengaged pupils (NEETs) here for 1-2-1 sessions.
Our classes and activities include:
- Sewing & soft furnishings
- Arts and creative writing
- Employability skills, CV writing and job seeking advice
- International film
- Confidence building
- Reading group
- Rhyme time sessions
- Henna art
One project that is going from strength to strength is focused on people with low level mental health issues or who are suffering loneliness and isolation: Flourish.
Flourish uses art-based activities such as storytelling, creative writing, poetry and painting in collaboration with guest poets and artists who have the experience of working with those with mental health issues. The course challenges the stigma about mental health. It creates an empowering, safe space for participants to be seen as co-creators of knowledge whose unheard experiences of distress can inform the larger narratives about ‘recovery’. It has drawn out unknown or unrecognised talents in people and boosted self-confidence.
When Mollie, a withdrawn 19 year old, joined the course, she was very quiet and did not think she had any ability. We were amazed when, in one art session based on fallen leaves, she created, in a little over an hour, a fantastic painting. This was then used as a promotional poster for ‘Flourish’ (see above). A council officer subsequently commissioned Mollie to design a Christmas card for his team to use. Similarly, 61 year old David, who suffers with depression and anxiety, had always enjoyed art but had been discouraged by teachers who said he was wasting his time. He used his leaves to form the tail of a peacock, inspired by the one in the local park aviary when he was a boy. Its beauty and vibrancy had stayed with him all his life.
Now they have more belief in their talent, both David and Mollie, along with other members of Flourish, have been invited to participate in a community artwork project to create a series of murals mapping the cultural heritage and history of one of the town’s estates.
Flourish, funded by the National Lottery via the library’s community group, is acknowledged locally as providing a valuable and much needed service. It consequently has social prescribing referrals from local health partners who recognise its ability to help people heal without the need for medication. Jobcentre Plus refer people too as they realise Flourish’s ability to boost people’s confidence and increase their readiness for formal training or work.
(See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYN5smTnLDs )
Working with Home Group
Another group which uses the library is the national housing association Home Group. They host weekly drop-in sessions here: one for men and one for women. The men’s group works primarily with Rotherham MBC tenants with Asperger’s or on the autism spectrum. The help and support they provide helps sustain those tenancies and increase people’s self-confidence and ability to interact with others. The changes in people are a delight to see. From first joining as very reserved individuals who may avoid eye contact, they develop more confidence over time – some of them even go on to tease library staff and joke with them and other library customers. ‘Paul’s Lads’, as they are known, have also helped us with events (charity fundraisers or seasonal celebrations), selling tickets and staffing the signing-in desk.
Since its inception last year, the women’s group has quickly established its value and become an ideal referral point for social prescribing. It tackles loneliness and social isolation by providing a weekly focus for people, giving them somewhere to meet, chat and get advice over a cup of tea and a biscuit.
The ladies got involved in a borough-wide project last year, ‘The Festival of Angels’. They designed and made wall-mounted, illuminated angel ‘selfie’ wings. These were displayed at the library for people to take their selfies against (including Marianna - seen below) and to post to social media with the hashtags #FestivalofAngels. The festival’s organisers requested the wings for display at the end of project celebration event at Rotherham Minster and invited the ladies to attend. The icing on the cake was seeing how keen the Mayor was to have her picture taken with their wings.
Heart of the Community
‘Heart of the Community’ was an innovative project started at the library to raise money to buy 24 hour community access defibrillators for each of Rotherham’s 15 libraries, in recognition of their importance as community hubs. This was arranged by our community group (MVNA) who planned and delivered a fundraising event that raised just under £6k on the day (50% of the money needed). The balance of funds, and gifts in kind, were matched by others the library worked with, including local charity StartAHeart24:7, Yorkshire Ambulance Service and the British Heart Foundation.
As a result, Rotherham became the only town in the UK with defibrillators sited outside all of its libraries. A further outcome of the project was that each library received its own CPR pack from Yorkshire Ambulance Service for loaning to local clubs and organisations, such as the Scouts or tenants organisations, to learn/teach vital lifesaving skills. This was another first for UK libraries, made possible due to community engagement.
The Butterfly Project raised awareness of and addressed child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Asian households. It was carefully designed by local Pakistani-heritage women to give women from the local Asian community information about CSE in the wake of the scandal affecting Rotherham. The women approached the library for help, and we facilitated a meeting with our community group who applied for funding from South Yorkshire Community Foundation to pilot the tool kit.
Women were initially engaged through arts and crafts sessions to create a non-threatening environment. The subject matter was then gently introduced. The sessions were so successful they were broadened out and delivered to other BME groups too. Some sessions included men who contributed to the discussion and learned how children are targeted and groomed, even within the home.
From its launch at Mowbray Gardens library, the Butterfly Project was subsequently delivered to groups in other areas, with MVNA securing additional funding through Safer Rotherham Partnership and the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner.
Find out more
To keep up to date with what is happening, follow Alnaar @Mowbray Gardens on twitter.
Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce