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

MECC with subtitles 1

Libraries have always traditionally been seen as places where you have to keep quiet.

But now visitors are being told they shouldn’t be afraid to speak up if they want to improve their health and wellbeing.

As part of a scheme called Making Every Contact Count (MECC), some staff in the county’s libraries have been trained to help turn conversations with customers into constructive lifestyle support as part of a pilot project.

In an effort to make libraries a place where people might turn to for help in improving their lifestyle, sections dedicated to health have been supplemented with leaflets promoting wellbeing and healthy choices.

The pilot project has been spearheaded by Oxfordshire County Council’s Public Health team, which seeks to promote, improve and protect the health of local people. It’s all part of the council’s commitment to thriving communities – we help people live safe, healthy lives and play an active part in their community.

Encouraging healthy lifestyle choices

Staff from a dozen libraries have been engaged in the MECC pilot, which is now being evaluated to see how it can be rolled out further across our network of 43 libraries.

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.”

Combating loneliness and isolation

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

Some 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.

Pointing people in the right direction

Library staff are often drawn into conversation with customers. If those customers mention wanting to change their lifestyle, staff have been given the skills to 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.

MECC has been rolled out by Health Education England nationally as a tool for behaviour change.

It states: “MECC uses the millions of day-to-day interactions that organisations and people have with other people to support them in making positive changes to their physical and mental health and wellbeing.”

Success on a work and personal level

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

She said: “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.

“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.”

One member of her library team had also had a conversation with a customer and signposted them to the mental health charity Oxfordshire Mind. After receiving support the same person returned to the library to thank the staff member.

Kim said: “Doing MECC created a real spark and as a result we’ve been widening our focus on health. We’re now in contact with local organisations such as Healthy Abingdon and helping Abingdon Lions promote its Message In The Bottle scheme.

“We’re just showing people the resources available to them if they show an interest in it. Why wouldn’t we do that? It’s an extension of what library staff do.”

Perfect fit for Library Service

Simon Lay, Library Operations Manager (Branch Network), 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.