Learning and working together

As always, it’s been a busy few months for Westminster Libraries’ Bengali Service! Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve been up to:

Mental Health Facilitators / Ayurvedic Indian Head Massage training

Community Celebration Day at Church Street Library, December 2016Community Celebration Day at Church Street Library, December 2016

This is a joint project in Church Street, in partnership with the Mosaic Community Trust, to train local residents – particularly those with English as a second language – to become mental health facilitators and massage therapists through a qualified training programme. In turn they are able to act as champions for their respective communities.

As part of the programme a ‘Community Celebration Day’ was held in December at Church Street Library – many people, including GPs and practice managers from the local health centres, attended to discuss patient participation and how local people can play an active role in terms of their care needs.

The project has 15 students and they will be graduating as massage therapists this month! The training will equip the participants with relevant skills to work as therapists or freelance in a salon. Some students demonstrated their newly acquired skills at the event in December and at Church Street’s New Year’s New You event in January.

A World In A Suitcase (AWIASC)

A World in a Suitcase is a storytelling project funded by the Wellcome Trust & WAES in collaboration with an author and a former BBC producer. Its aim was to foster closer relations, understanding and tolerance between communities through sharing their ‘World’.”

Myrna Shoa and Timuchin Dindjer have run six workshops with our English Speaking Clubs members at Church Street Library, using multimedia arts and story-telling prop materials.

Participants have created a visual record of their stories through collages, drawings, words and photos. All these culminated into an exhibition at WAES which was opened by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cllr Steve Summers.

A World in a Suitcase (AWIASC) exhibition, 2017
A World in a Suitcase (AWIASC) exhibition, 2017 – click to view the rest of the images

Employment and Training Project at Queen’s Park Library

A great partnership has been forged with Queen’s Park Community Council and Paddington Development Trust’s (PDT) employment programme to introduce a new service at Queen’s Park Library.

The PDT Employment Adviser, Shah Alam, is based in Queen’s Park Library every Tuesday (10.30am-3.30pm). Shah works with Westminster residents, long term unemployed and job seekers, men and women over the age of 19, on a one to one basis. He sees them for a series of Information, Advice and Guidance sessions, a minimum of six and at a pace set by the client. Sessions can cover motivation and confidence, skills and referrals to training, CV creation, job search and applications, interview techniques and practical support.

SShah at Queen's Park Library, giving employment advice and supporthah is enjoying meeting with different community members, people with different needs and expectations from a job and who are balancing different responsibilities of family and childcare and other commitments. Contact Queen’s Park Library to find out more.

Parenting Seminars at Queen’s Park Library

A series of parenting seminars were organised and delivered at Queen’s Park Library, in partnership with Westminster Early Help Team & Parenting and Fast Co-ordinator, Madhu Chauhan.

Parenting seminars at Queen's Park LibraryFifteen local people have attended the seminars over three weeks learning about raising resilient happy children, instilling positive behaviours at home so they become happy, well-rounded and able to achieve their full potential.

Feedback ranged from great to excellent after all these workshops!

International Mother Language Day at Pimlico Library

Another successful event was held at Pimlico Library in partnership with Westminster Bangladeshi Association (WBA) on 16 February to commemorate International Mother Language Day – a day to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

The event attracted over a hundred people into the library. We saw children making collages with signs and symbols of their native countries, with images of healthy food and key healthy lifestyle messages in different languages. Children also took part in a colouring completion and poetry performance as well as speeches about the importance of cultural diversity in language and why it is important to learn English in this multicultural city of Westminster.

International Mother Language Day at Pimlico Library International Mother Language Day at Pimlico Library

This event was also supported by various organisations such as My Time Active, Westminster Memory Service, Health Information Co-ordinator and Health Trainers.

A Volunteer Success Story

Magdalena works at Queen’s Park Library helping out with Basic Computer Sessions and the English Speaking Club. She also helps colleagues with shelving.

Recently, she has acquired a job as she has been growing in confidence through her volunteering with the Bengali Service in Westminster Libraries. Congratulations Magdalena!

International Women’s Day

The Bengali Service also marked International Women’s Day with an event at Church Street Library, with some high achieving local female guest speakers to inspire the local women of Westminster as well as service providers ranging from  the education, training, employment, health and wellbeing sectors.

Watch this space for more news!


Reading Ahead for success

Over 200 Westminster readers won special recognition for completing the Reading Ahead challenge 2016.

Reading Ahead poster 2015-16Reading Ahead (formerly The Six Book Challenge) is a nationwide challenge from The Reading Agency inviting participants to pick six reads – anything from books and magazines to website articles – and record, rate and review them in a reading diary. The programme is designed to help less confident readers improve their reading skills and is run locally by Westminster Libraries and Westminster Adult Education Service (WAES), particularly encouraging readers with English as a second language to take part. Last year, over 48,000 people took part across the UK.

In Westminster, 746 people participated in this year’s challenge, with 221 receiving the completion certificate. For the third consecutive year Church Street Library led the field with 149 completers, thanks to a great partnership with WAES and Working Men’s College who deliver their Community ESOL classes at the library.

Westminster Reading Ahead awards ceremony, July 2016

Westminster participants celebrated their success at a special event in July with author Diane Sherlock, who said:

“I was much moved and impressed by your wonderful readers. And by what you all have achieved.”

We’d like to express thanks and congratulations to everyone who took part in the challenge, including the library and WAES staff members who worked so hard at every stage from initial promotion through to the final ceremony. And thanks to Diane for her enthusiasm and support. Here’s some pictures of the happy participants receiving their certificates:

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Councillor David Harvey, Westminster City Council Cabinet Member for Sports and Leisure said:

“Reading is a vital skill and it’s wonderful to see so many people in Westminster take part and develop their confidence. I hope that all participants continue to build on their success and help spread the joy of reading in their communities.”

If you or someone you know are interested in taking part next year, please contact your local library. And in the meantime, why not get your children into the reading habit – it’s not too late for them to join this year’s Summer Reading Challenge!

Westminster Reading Ahead awards ceremony, July 2016


New Year, New You

Osman ready to fuel the 'smoothie bike' at New Year New You, Church Street Library, January 2016

The last week of January 2016 saw three New Year New You events – one in each borough: first Westminster, then Kensington & Chelsea, and finally Hammersmith & Fulham.

Hand massages at New Year New You, Church Street Library, January 2016

The first event was at Church Street Library on 25 January, with events such as a power walk round the area, followed by a WAES ceramics session: “Have a go with clay – bring out the inner potter in you!” Riding the ‘smoothie bike’ was a challenge, but with the reward of a smoothie at the end, all generated by your own pedal power. There were opportunities to refresh your mind and body, with eyebrow threading, mini facials, hand massages, aromatherapy and Reiki – all from highly trained professionals. The Monday ESOL group sampled various foods and had a taster session of French with our French club volunteer… C’est bon appetit!

The Monday ESOL group at New Year New You, Church Street Library, January 2016

The afternoon saw yoga for relaxation, Zumba for energy and Street Dance for the young and agile. Throughout the day there were tips on healthy eating from the Stroke Association, Munro Health, Health and Fitness trainers offering blood pressure checks, cholesterol and healthy eating tips, along with Kick-It the stop smoking unit.

Cheryl from Kick It Stop Smoking service at New Year New You, Church Street Library, January 2016

Many of the same organisations attended the events at North Kensington Library two days later and Hammersmith Library at the end of the week, though each also had a local flavour. Each event was really well attended and the customers had a great time:

“Brilliant fun on the smoothie bike – harder than it looks!”

“Felt really relaxed after the facial”

“Great atmosphere”

The library was buzzing all day with customers coming back and forth to sample many different activities throughout the day. Would we do it all again next year? YES we would.


Victoria Library blog

Victoria LibraryWe have been busy little bees at Victoria Library recently – there’s been so much happening we haven’t had time to post about each event, so we thought it was about time we did a big summary of what we’ve been up to!

Over the past few months, the library has been humming with activity. In addition to numerous health activities organised by Kate the health information worker, we have had a fair few authors visiting to tell us all about their work.

We kicked off the autumn library season with a writing session led by Sharon Kendrick, a Mills and Boon author keen to share her experiences of writing.

Immediately after, we had a talk on the little-known Victorian gentleman archaeologist Alexander Hardcastle by Alexandra Richardson.  The talk was extremely informative and gave a hint of the amount of work an author has to put in to gain such a thorough understanding of a little known subject.

Bringing them up Royal, by David CohenThen we had David Cohen (a writer, psychologist and journalist) come in and talk about the childhoods of the royals since 1066, including the erratic, negligent or even cruel parenting that was sometimes involved.
As you might imagine, this hidden aspect of the life of royalty drew quite a crowd of interested participants. I imagine it might be an even more popular talk if we hosted it again, given its relevance to this week’s news…

We next had the Roehampton University Writing Society giving readings from their latest anthology. Consisting of a mixture of poetry and prose, the crowd was mostly keen students but included some intrigued members of the public.

Chocolate cakes at Victoria Library

Subsequently, we had two authors come in to talk about their upcoming works and about how to get published: Sunita Pattani and Sweta Srivastava Vikram (authors of My Secret Affair with Chocolate Cake and Mouth Full respectively). One of them was so happy with the library that she decided she’d like to hold her book launch here too. Without so much as a break for fresh air, we then had Sunita come in to deliver her talk to a full house (so full in fact that we had to close off the study room just for the event). Given the nature of the talk – how you can eat chocolate and still be healthy – we managed to persuade Starbucks to supply us with a chocolate cake. Needless to say the launch was a massive success with over 40 attendees (and just enough chocolate left over to keep the staff happy).

Open University Open Day at Victoria LibraryIn between all of these events, we also had the Open University come in to deliver information sessions, weekly Healthy Westminster sessions, ESOL classes, our regular book groups, employment workshops and of course, keeping the library running smoothly!

We also held quite a few events for children:

Our Halloween Party was a great success, with more than 20 children attending in fancy dress. We played themed games, awarded prizes for the best costumes, and received many compliments from parents and carers  – plus the children all took home a skeleton and some sweets!

This Christmas sees us joining forces with Westminster Music Library for a children’s Christmas Extravaganza on 13 December. We will be singing carols, giving out mince pies, have a lucky ticket draw for the parents and carers and a special visit from Santa Claus.

Author Sunita Pattani and Victoria Library Manager Ann FarrellThank you to all our customers for your continued support – we look forward to seeing you in the coming weeks, borrowing books to read and music to play or listen to at Christmas.

[Nick and Georgina]

Improve your English

Advanced Grammar in Use, by Martin Hewings - the most borrowed book from Westminster Libraries in 2011You may have seen the reports in the press about Westminster’s most borrowed book last year. Was it another Jacqueline Wilson? A book looking forward to Olympics? Or perhaps good old Catherine Cookson?

No, it was Advanced Grammar in Use, by Martin Hewings!

While it may not be as widely known as Harry Potter, as exciting as the Milennium Trilogy, or indeed as entertaining as the Wimpy Kid books, the popularity of this title, and others like it, highlights something important about libraries. They are places for both leisure and learning, for both adults and children, and for everyone who needs them, regardless of where they come from. They’re about helping you to achieve what you want in your life, whether it’s escape into romance, learning to crochet or getting by in today’s Britain.

'Learn English' display at St John's Wood LibraryYou’ll find collections, and often courses, to help you with your English in all Westminster Libraries – the picture on the right shows a current display at St John’s Wood Library.

The display highlights the free online Nexus course available to library members, Penguin Readers which are adapted for learners (some with audio CDs for listening practice), grammar books, dictionaries and access to the Life in the UK Practice Test.


Mr Livingstone, we presume?

Church Street Library[Please excuse the title. We just couldn’t resist]
Church Street Library was the unexpected venue for a whistlestop visit from Ken Livingstone last week.  Ken was in the area to promote registration on the electoral roll.

After being greeted by staff, he had a quick tour of the library, starting with the Learning Centre. There was a ‘drop in’ session going on, run by three of our excellent volunteers, and Ken was suitably impressed by the number of computer classes we hold as well as the ESOL classes. He was also interested in how popular the classes are, with waiting lists for some and high attendance at each session.

Church Street Children's LibraryKen was introduced to the Learning Centre Co-ordinator, who spoke about the classes and the Life in the UK test course. And then, before leaving, he visited the teenage zone and the children’s library, where once again he commented on what a great area it is for young people to use.


ESOL end of year party

End of year party for the English learners at St John's Wood LibraryAn English class, run by Westminster Adult Education Service (WAES), started in September 2010 at St John’s Wood Library. It was aimed at Upper Intermediate English learners. The group had 12 regular attendees who met every Friday evening in the library. The learners were engaged in the Six Book Challenge through the library. This Challenge is a national initiative that invites less confident readers to read six books and record their experience in a diary.

All the learners did really well on their course and had so much fun learning new things. Their English language skills and confidence have greatly improved and their enthusiasm for reading has grown.

At the end of year party on 18 July, the students prepared presentations for library staff where each student talked about a situation that happened in the class that made them laugh. Everybody had a great time and the learners exchanged contact details so they can stay in touch after the course has finished.

The new English class will start on 23 September, 6.00-8.00pm. If you wish to enrol please come to the initial assessment session on Friday 16 September 2011 at St John’s Wood Library. The course is free (subject to meeting WAES funding criteria). To find out about other learning opportunities in Westminster Libraries, visit our Learning in Libraries page.


Six books to take on the world

Suhad, the Six Book Challenge national prize winnerThe National Six Book Challenge Project, which runs for the first six months of the calendar year, was the occasion for celebrations in Paddington, Pimlico and St James’s libraries recently.

Participants in the challenge enrolled via Literacy and ESOL classes and community groups contacted through the libraries’ outreach activities, as well as in the Westminster libraries themselves.

Literacy and ESOL tutors at the classes are key to promoting the challenge and giving students support and encouragement to continue and complete the six books. Equally important is for library staff to maintain contact with both tutors and participants. The books used were from the Basic Skills Books collections which all Westminster lending libraries have developed and built up.

Nearly 300 people participated across the borough, either completing 6 books (completers) or between 2 and 5 books (participants) – each was then eligible for the appropriate certificate. All completers were eligible for the national draw for a prize, and there were also local draws for completers, with prizes generously donated by Westminster Kingsway College, The Vincent Rooms, The London Transport Museum, Sainsbury’s on Victoria Street and others.

At least 40 completers and participants attended the celebration at Paddington Library, along with a number of tutors and senior colleagues. One of our completers won the National Prize Draw and we were delighted that Genevieve Clarke, Senior Project Manager of The Reading Agency (which set up and administers the challenge) also spoke at the celebration. The winner’s story will also appear on the Reading Agency’s Six  Book Challenge website.

“When I went home and showed my certificate to my children and grandchildren they were contemplating how and what kind of frame to use to display my certificate. It felt like being a graduate. I had attended my children’s’ graduation ceremonies but never ever had I thought I would be part of something like that”.

“I thought we were just reading books to improve our English but to get a certificate was something totally amazing. I am taking this to show my Job Centre Advisor next time when I go for signing in.”

Linda Stratmann presents the certificatesThe crime writer Linda Stratmann (seen on the right in the picture), author of the book Whiteley’s Folly, kindly agreed to present the certificates at Paddington, and spoke to the assembled guests about the pleasures and benefits of learning to read confidently.

To round off the event, one of the completers read out her poem about the importance of being confident in English, especially if you are someone for whom it is a second language.

The last word must go to Suhad, our national prize draw winner:

Through my learning experience, I have felt that my knowledge has expanded as I have improved my reading, speaking and writing skills. This experience has opened my eyes in life because it helped me develop my understanding, therefore I can communicate better when travelling and exploring the world. Also, when I found out that I have won the ‘national prize’ I was shocked but at the same time proud that I have won because of all the hard work that I have put in reading all those amazing books. I didn’t only enter the competition hoping to win the prize but I wanted to enter a different world of stories in my mind. The one thing people must remember is ‘nothing is better than learning and achieving’.

[Laurence, Mahbuba, Sanja and Susie]