Kirklees library service has teamed up with a local theatre company, spoken word artist and schools to create drama workshops that help young people work through difficult feelings and experiences. Thanks to the sessions, young people have been introduced to the Reading Well for young people booklist, inspiring them to get reading and experience their local libraries.
"We knew from the beginning that we needed something different"
Kirklees library service has a strong reputation for imaginative outreach and project work with a diverse range of socially excluded groups. It has partnered with a diverse array of organisations over the years, but has recently decided to commit time and capacity to the young people's mental health agenda by taking a creative approach to using the Reading Well for young people scheme.
"We realised the list was a high-quality resource. We wanted to do something different to reach young people and make them aware of this resource, using a different way to engage them. We knew from the beginning that we needed something different, more than a simple talk delivered by a librarian."
Building local creative partnerships
In this spirit, Kirklees libraries reached out to local Chol Theatre, who then designed and delivered a series of drama workshops using the Reading Well for young people title Every Day by David Levithan. The novel is the story of A, a person who wakes up in a different body each day, and the workshops are built around the concept of empathy and how to express and communicate feelings to other people.
As part of the same initiative, the library service has also worked with spoken word artist Lisa Luxx to deliver workshops with young people about self-acceptance, understanding others and exploring their fears through performing, discussing and interpreting poetry with their peers.
"We asked them to help us to understand how to use drama to spread these messages. We believed in their approach - they were the experts in their field and we left them the freedom in doing what they thought was useful... We feel that in doing this we are supporting the local creative industries and creatives working in the area, and we feel this is relevant to support our local economy."
Integrating Reading Well into schools
The workshops took place in a number of sites, including Chol Theatre, local Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) Ethos College, and North Huddersfield Trust secondary school. This proved to be a perfect opportunity to further integrate Shelf Help into schools.
To accompany the workshops, Kirklees libraries loaned the Reading Well for young people collection to the PRU, where the books were displayed in the school foyer for students and staff to browse.
"At the end of the session, I reminded the students about the library, the Shelf Help collection and everything else we have to offer. One boy said he would now like to read the book after doing the drama workshops."
North Huddersfield Trust School also introduced their students to the books during the Chol Theatre drama workshops, and has now purchased the Shelf Help collection for their school library. Feedback from students was positive:
"It was a really powerful way to show how some people view the world."
"It's made me think about issues around mental health."
Early intervention & prevention: complementing local government priorities
This example of creative collaboration between libraries, schools and local arts organisations also fits seamlessly into Kirklees Council's priorities of early intervention and prevention for mental health. Teachers recommended students who were particularly shy or experiencing difficulties integrating with the other students to attend the workshops, so as to intervene at the early stages of difficulty.
"Our activities link directly to the early stage prevention priority our council has. We follow this path very clearly. The project and their feedback shows we can do it. In the future, we'd like to work with primary schools, and help with those problems that are rooted in the early years."