01/06/2023 How libraries are supporting their community's health and wellbeing

Social prescribing is a fantastic way of helping those of us that are feeling isolated begin to engage with our local community again. But in order for it to work, link workers need places to refer people to which are affordable, accessible and safe.

For that reason, libraries play a vital role in the delivery of social prescribing at a hyperlocal level. Across the country, libraries are supplying, hosting and connecting people to social prescribing activities, working closely with healthcare professionals to strengthen the ties between health and community inclusion.  

To see this in action, NASP visited the Jubilee library in Brighton earlier in the year to meet the link workers, librarians and facilitators working together to improve the health of their community.

We met Emma Drew, the Director of Robin Hood Health Foundation and leader of the Hera arts and health partnership, which hosts a team of link workers working in the Brighton and Hove area. She explained why non-medical institutions like libraries play a role people’s recovery.

She said: “A lot of the things that are making people unwell – or prevent them getting better – are not medical in themselves. Quite often it’s other elements of people’s lives that are putting downward pressure on people’s wellbeing.”

On the day of the visit, the library was hosting a group of link workers and their referrals, giving them a tour of the library and the rare book room before people were invited to take part in a free writing for wellbeing workshop run by a local author.

Just as libraries host a range of activities for link workers to refer people to, social prescribing can be a fantastic way for libraries to reach and engage with people in harder to reach communities.            

Julie O’Neil, the Library Service Manager, noted the importance of social prescribing to spread the word about their work. She said: “We do our best to provide creative, cultural and enjoyable activities to anyone in the community…I think social prescribing is the best idea I’ve heard in a long time.”

For many, the library is a constant, a place they feel safe in and a place they feel comfortable returning to, even after life changes.

When asked about the part libraries play in social prescribing, Dan – a Brighton based link worker – said: “The library bridges a gap, it reminds people that they are a part of a community.”

Lexi – who was prescribed activities at the Jubilee library – said: “The library is an amazing place…I came here when I was a student and I got a lot of my work done here. And later, when I had a toddler, I practically lived in the kids section… I think there’s something for everybody here.”

Jubilee library is one example of many across the country, engaging with the social prescribing provision in their area. Through networks like Libraries Connected and the Reading Agency, libraries are sharing best practice and finding ways to continue to offer their space and local expertise as an asset to healthcare networks. 

Dr Tola Dabiri, National Lead for Arts & Culture at NASP and a former librarian herself, is working closely with these networks to ensure libraries continue to play a big part in the social prescribing movement. She said: “Libraries have long been at the heart of our communities, they know what makes the people and place they service tick. Building ever stronger connections between community service providers like libraries and local healthcare networks is vital if both institutions want to serve the people who need them the most.”


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