by Listening Books members of the Accelerating Innovation Community of Practice
Listening Books provides a postal and internet-based audiobook service. We reach over 100,000 UK residents who have a disability or illness that impacts their ability to read the printed word. During the run-up to the Covid lockdown, we were concerned we wouldn’t be in the office for several weeks, so it was all hands-on deck to try and get as many CDs out to our members as possible. Once restricted to our homes, we realised we needed to do more to continue to supply audiobooks to those members who relied upon us. As a team we set about calling over two hundred of our members with access to the CD service, to see if we could talk them through using our download and streaming services as an alternative. It became clear that many of our older members were digitally excluded. They either didn’t have the internet at home or a device to listen to our audiobooks from. For others, the stress the pandemic caused meant trying to get online was too much and a step they weren’t willing to take.
In response, we ran an emergency funding campaign, spoke with our supportive publishing contacts, and were able to raise the money to provide tablets, preloaded with 50 audiobooks to the members who needed them. Here is some of the overwhelming feedback we received:
“Being unable to hold books easily as my arthritis increases, Listening Books gave me a route back into my beloved books. Being in total isolation due to COVID-19, Listening Books audiobooks have been my lifeline. It’s a wonderful opportunity to explore new genres too. Thank you so much for all you do.”
“Just a note to thank you for all your help ‘above & beyond’ whilst things are anything but normal (old or new!). We have had enormous success with the tablet and wish this was an ongoing service as I have trouble with finding where my husband was up to on the mp3 discs (don’t think I will ever really crack it!). Thank you once again for all that you do, and the pleasant, helpful phone calls.”
“I just wanted to send this card saying “Thank you” for managing to maintain your audiobook service during this pandemic. You have been seriously impressive in making sure every member has been able to access audiobooks in some way: giving all members access to the ‘Downloadable’ service and even providing tablets preloaded with audiobooks for members with no internet access is amazing! It has been and continues to be a scary time but still being able to access books has, for me at least, given me both a sense of normality and an escape (as audiobooks always are: having been housebound/mostly stuck in bed since 1996 my own ‘lockdown’ has lasted rather a long time…!). I also appreciated the ‘Funny & Feelgood’ collection suggestions on Downloadable. I hope this card brightens the day of whoever is able to access the post. Know that you are appreciated!”
New way of working
We realised that we needed to be able to offer this type of service as part of our regular membership. After all, many of our membership were ;already vulnerable and isolated before the pandemic, unable to leave home regularly due to age, disability or illness. The aim was to help relieve those feelings of isolation and loneliness that were exacerbated by the pandemic, but for many of our members, are a part of everyday life. We knew from experience that audiobooks can alleviate feelings of loneliness and bring much needed escapism from the challenges around us. We therefore began partnering with organisations and befriending charities, to reach those people who would benefit from this service in their everyday lives.
We have now partnered with six charities and 62 individuals have been provided with a Listening Books tablet filled with audiobooks. Some of these people have already finished their first set of titles and we’ve provided a new selection of audiobooks for them to enjoy.
We want to scale up this offer and work with more charities in the future. It’s been hugely popular, and we have a waiting list of new members we want to help. We are still gaining feedback from the current participants and need more statistics to support our growth ambitions but feedback so far has confirmed the project has relieved feelings of isolation and loneliness in those we asked.