Library and sector support for people experiencing or threatened by homelessness

In response to a homelessness crisis, amplified as part of Libraries Week 2021, and in the lead-up to World Homeless Day (October 10), The Reading Agency and Libraries Connected invited people working in or with the library sector to a panel discussion around the public library offer for people experiencing or threatened by homelessness.

At the event we were welcomed by John, the Lord John Bird MBE, an activist, publisher and Crossbench member of the House of Lords who founded The Big Issue. He discussed how, as a consequence of Covid-19, we can expect to see an increased number of people experiencing homelessness, citing the Local Government Association, who last year talked about the fact that there might be about 400,000, people who would be evicted if they didn’t pay their rents or their mortgages, potentially leading to hundreds of thousands of people ending up homeless.

“I want to stress the fact that we are entering the biggest crisis I have ever known around homelessness.”
– John, the Lord Bird MBE

Lord Bird also offered his solidarity to every library in this country because, in his words, ‘libraries are an incredible place where homeless people can feel welcome. Where homeless people can feel that they are real, ordinary human beings and they’re not being picked out as almost a part of another species. They are people who feel totally and utterly at home when they go into libraries.’

Award-winning investigative journalist, podcaster and author Maeve McClenaghan also joined us to share her experiences of writing No Fixed Abode: Life and Death Among the UK’s Forgotten Homeless (Picador, 2020). She described how, when she began her investigation into the rate of mortality linked to homelessness, she was faced with a complete absence of data; nobody was keeping a record. So, she set about gathering it herself through meticulous research and interviews with people experiencing homelessness.

“I saw libraries providing this, this refuge, this place of warmth and security for people. Sometimes in the most practical of ways.”
– Maeve McLenaghan

We also heard from Jo Foster Murdoch and Caroline Varney Bowers from Norfolk Library Service and Caroline Rae from Newham Library Service, who shared the steps their teams have been taking to support people experiencing or threatened by homelessness, including connecting with local charities, shelters and soup kitchens, undertaking training, introducing accessible membership and organising workshops.

“There seems to be a significant appetite with homeless sector organisations to work with libraries more strategically.”
– Caroline Rae, Newham Library Service

We also had some closing comments from Sue Ball MBE, Stock and Services Manager at Staffordshire Libraries and chair of the public library health group with key findings and best practice shared by libraries delivered by Debbie Hicks MBE, Creative Director at The Reading Agency. Lord Bird’s colleague, Chris Falchi-Stead, Director of Sales & Operations at The Big Issue. The session offered both a sobering insight into the scale of the homelessness crisis affecting people in the UK today and an inspiring look at the work currently being undertaken by the library sector to best support people experiencing or threatened by homelessness, with lots of ideas as to how this work can be developed going forward.

Next steps

Following on from the event we have produced a report drawing together the findings from the call out and event. The report offers examples of the current library services available to people experiencing or threatened by homelessness and suggests priorities for a framework for the public library offer in this field. This report is available to download here.

On Tuesday 22 March we will be hosting a discussion and workshop to explore these priorities further and develop an action plan for the public library offer for people experiencing or threatened by homelessness.

Find out more and register a free place.

What better way to celebrate this Valentine’s Day than 25 books children and young people in Wales love!

Today public libraries in Wales and The Reading Agency are announcing their Winter of Wellbeing shortlist, a collection of 25 brilliant books nominated by children and young people across Wales for their power to make them feel better, more connected and more understood.

This exciting strand of the cross-sector Winter of Wellbeing campaign running across Wales launched last month with a call to action to discover children and young people’s favourite reads after a difficult two years during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Children and young people across Wales responded in their droves and the top 25 list has now been published. Among those on the list are award winning Welsh authors like the writer and broadcaster Horatio Clare, who was brought up on a sheep farm in South Wales, four times winner of the Tir na n’Og Wales Children’s Book Awards and Welsh Libraries’ January 2022 author of the month Manon Steffan Ros from Meirionnydd, and popular Pembrokeshire-based children’s author, Eloise Williams.

“I’m so honoured to have been nominated for the Winter of Wellbeing booklist, and I’d like to give a huge thanks to all who give their time and energy to reading my work. Books have always been excellent company and faithful friends to me, so to be included on this list means a great deal,” said Manon whose book Fi ac Aaron Ramsey, a tale of two friends and ends as Wales reach the Euros in 2020 is featured in the top 25 feel-good reads.

Eloise Williams, winner of the Wolverhampton Children’s Book Award 2020, Wales Arts Review Young People’s Book of the Year 2020 and shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year 2021 children’s novel Seaglass is featured, an atmospheric ghost story set on the salty, windswept Welsh coast.

Eloise, also Wales’s inaugural Children’s Laureate (2019-21) said: “The Winter of Wellbeing is a wonderful campaign. It’s so important to show our children and young people how powerful books can be and how to find them in our libraries.

“It is wonderful to be included in this list of feel-good reads, it’s the icing on the cake after being part of the first Winter of Wellbeing online events last week.”

Supported by the Welsh Government, the Winter of Wellbeing campaign aims to help children and young people recover from the pandemic, and is working its magic in counties across Wales.

Public libraries have teamed up with The Reading Agency for this seasonal celebration of reading, the benefits it promotes and the power of local libraries to help children reconnect with each other and their community. It will continue through to the end of March with a programme of activities and events delivered online and in libraries.

Talking about the campaign, Nicola Pitman chair of the Society of Chief Librarians Cymru and library lead said: “Something magical happens when you read and we’re here, this winter, to share, shout about and celebrate the way that magic works and the places it can lead you.

“We hope the booklist can be a starting block for young people, to inspire and encourage them to visit their libraries and pick up a book and – while they’re there – to enjoy a whole mix of activities and events that can connect them to each other and their community. Libraries up and down Wales have a brilliant mix of events lined up – not only story time groups, but mindfulness sessions and quiz nights for teens, creative writing classes for young adults, rhyme and sign groups for babies and toddlers and botanic fairy-garden workshops and terrarium sessions for families. The list is long and varied!

“Plus, of course, we have some fantastic national events online, which kicked off last week welcoming authors Eloise Williams, Sarah KilBride, Manon Steffan Ros and Children’s Laureate Wales Connor Allen and Bardd Plant Cymru Casi Wyn. There are plenty more to come in March, all free and bookable on the website.”

Other Welsh authors who made it onto the shortlist included Horatio Clare, Alex Wharton, Eloise Williams and Huw Davies. “We are blessed in Wales to have many great writers,” adds Nicola. “Each book on the list can be found at your local library, so what are you waiting for, go and visit yours and try one of the books.”

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency said: “We’re delighted to announce this fantastic, crowdsourced booklist as part of the Winter of Wellbeing, the Welsh Government’s excellent initiative connecting children and young people to each other and their community through the power of reading. We really hope that these books and authors help people to feel better this winter as we continue to emerge from the pandemic and want to thank everyone who nominated a book!”

Here is the full list of the top 25 nominated feel-good page turners for children and young adults:

  • Rain before Rainbows by Smriti Halls and illustrated by David Litchfield (Walker Books) A story about friendship, courage and self-belief
  • Sharing a Shell by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Lydia Monks / Welsh language edition: Croeso I’n Cragen (Rily Publications Ltd)
  • Sometimes I feel…SUNNY by Gillian Shields with illustrations by Georgie Birkett (Penguin) / Welsh language edition: Weithiau Dwi’n Teimlo’n Heulog (Dref Wen)
  • One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth (Harper Collins)
  • Sw Sara Mai by Casia Wiliam and illustrations by Gwen Millward (Y Lolfa)
  • Daydreams and jellybeans – poetry by Alex Wharton illustrated by Katy Riddell (Firefly Press)
  • While We Can’t Hug by Eoin McLaughlin and illustrated by Polly Dunbar (Faber and Faber)
  • The Pond by Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher (Graffeg) / Welsh language: Y Pwll
  • Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot by Horatio Clare and illustrated by Jane Matthews (Firefly Press)
  • Fi ac Aaron Ramsey by Manon Steffan Ros (Y Lolfa)
  • Future Friend by David Baddiel and illustrated by Steven Lenton (Harper Collins)
  • Seaglass by Eloise Williams (Firefly Press)
  • Hello universe by Erin Entrada Kelly (Harper Collins)
  • Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga and illustrated by Jake Alexander and Melleny Taylor (Macmillan Children’s)
  • The Infinite by Patience Agbabi (Canongate)
  • You are a Champion: How to be the best you can be by Marcus Rashford and Carl Anka (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani (Harper Collins)
  • A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll (Knights Of)
  • _Scrambled _by Huw Davies (Firefly Press) / Welsh language edition: Sgramblo (Firefly)
  • The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag (Scholastic)
  • Can You See Me by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott (Scholastic)
  • October, October by Katya Balen with illustrations by Angela Harding (Bloomsbury)
  • Coming up for Air by Tom Daley (Harper Collins)
  • War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (Egmont)/ Welsh adaptation: Ceffyl Rhyfel (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch)
  • The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy (Penguin) / Welsh language edition: Y Bachgen, y Wahadden, y Llwynog a’r Ceffyl (Graffeg)
The Reading Agency

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