We had a second Ideas Session yesterday, this time with libraries staff in Southwark. We were asking them about the future of libraries and their vision for early years health and wellbeing in Southwark and Lambeth.

In comparison to the more formal health and social care service teams we have worked with, libraries offer a unique perspective by remaining incredibly neutral. They provide daily activities for children and families, without any obligation or expectation.

“our remit is to serve the community, by providing spaces for people to learning and meeting… no one has to sign-in here, no-one is watching you or judging you, people can just be here and enjoy being here”

Their activities and provision for under fives is a big part of their work and they hope by providing books and opportunities for children to play they will enhance the wellbeing of families and encourage children to continually enjoy learning. The themes arising from the conversation covered the ideas of space to play, space to be safe and warm, equality and trust, and a place to learn.

“We bring  out the board games, a ,lot of kids don’t have board games at home, we let children make a noise, and we give parents a place to sit down”.
We have heard from many of the parents we’ve met about the very real tension between practical day-to-day tasks, and the need for a young child to play. Play can be un-ordered, messy, noisy, and time consuming. Spaces in the community that welcome and facilitate this for children and families seem to perform a very valuable function.

“You can see the impact of limited finances and cold weather for families now, a lot of people coming to the sessions can’t afford to heating bills so they come here with their children to be safe and warm”.
Rarely do public spaces allow you to exist, uninterrupted seemingly unnoticed, but still protected. There is something interesting in the need for a ‘home from home’ for many of the families we are meeting, somewhere the children can explore within and the parents can rest within.

“There was a lady recently who confided in me about her housing situation, she was being made homeless with two children and she was too ashamed to tell anyone”.
The trust developed between libraries staff and vulnerable families is something to explore further. There are a small number of people and professionals that earn a families genuine trust, when it happens it presents a important opportunity for having a positive impact. Trust and consistency are big themes arising in our conversations. We are starting to see where and when trust and consistency are most needed, and where and when they truly exist within a families network and relationships.

“Come in and learn, it will change your life”
The libraries pride themselves on being a place where people can learn things. With free access to the internet many people who do not have access at home are using the facilities. There feels to be a lot more potential in this area and a lot more to be done about what people want to learn and what families can learn together.