Banbury Library users urged to speak up to improve their health and wellbeing

Abingdon Library manager Kim Kearney. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council
Abingdon Library manager Kim Kearney. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

Banbury Library users are being encouraged to 'speak up' about health and wellbeing instead of being quiet to improve people's lifestyles.

Staff in a dozen Oxfordshire's libraries have been trained to help turn conversations with customers into constructive lifestyle support as part of a county council pilot project.

Oxfordshire County Council health improvement practitioner Kate Austin. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

Oxfordshire County Council health improvement practitioner Kate Austin. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

Health section have been supplemented with leaflets promoting wellbeing and healthy choices as part of the project by Oxfordshire County Council’s public health team.

The Make Every Contact Count (MECC) pilot is now being evaluated to see how it can be rolled out further across the 43 libraries across the county.

Kate Austin, a health improvement practitioner in the public health team, explained: “We’ve worked really closely with the library service putting together how this project might work.

“It’s about giving staff the skills and confidence to have conversations which might encourage people to make changes to their lifestyles to improve health.

“These are opportunist conversations and being ready to respond and signpost if people do come to you. It’s been great to work with the Library Service on this project and we’ve learnt a lot from the pilot.”

The pilot is funded by a grant of just under £10,000 from Health Education England Thames Valley.

Staff from Abingdon, Banbury, Benson, Bicester, Blackbird Leys, Botley, County, Cowley, Didcot, Kidlington, Wantage and Witney libraries took part to test the training model which included an eLearning course and then participating in a workshop delivered in partnership with Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.

Kate said libraries were now thinking about other ways that they can encourage health and are planning health awareness activities between now and the end of May.

At Bicester, staff are thinking about the creation of a ‘knit and natter’ group to help address loneliness and isolation, while at Didcot they are considering ways to promote National Walking Month.

“We’ve been trying to raise awareness of Public Health within the library and this is a good example of it starting to work,” she said.

Library staff are often drawn into conversation with customers so if they mention wanting to change their lifestyle, staff can point them in the right direction to seek help.

That might be signposting them to the county council’s Live Well Oxfordshire website, a mental health charity, a stop smoking group – or other services and sources of support to promote good health and wellbeing.

Library operations manager Simon Lay said the link-up with public health was a great example of joint-working across county council services.

“MECC is the perfect fit for the library service. If staff can help in any way to encourage people to make healthy lifestyle choices that can only be a good thing,” he said.

Kim Kearney, group library manager for Abingdon, said she had already seen the value of the project, both on a work and personal level.

“As well as talking to our customers and signposting to where they can get support, we’ve also been encouraging staff to talk to each other and their families," she said.

“The workshop talked about the causes of diseases and how you can reduce your risk of developing heart disease, cancer and other diseases by making changes to your lifestyle.

“In my own personal life, my partner and I have made changes to our diet. It has inspired me and motivated me to plan more meals, drink more sensibly and live more healthily.

“I’ve also had conversations with friends who are looking to give up smoking. Before I would have said ‘good for you’.

"Now I’m a lot more confident about signposting them to where they can go for help.”