Having a pet brings many rewards including companionship, affection and exercise. Here are some links that explore this in more details, highlighting how having a pet can benefit your health and well-being in many ways.Continue reading “Pets and Wellbeing”
Read, learn and connect with us during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week –
Libraries’ positive contribution to the mental well-being of the population is well documented – see the Arts Council’s publication on ‘The health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries.’
I say population and not just customers or residents as it has been said that living near a library and, indeed, just walking past a library has a positive effect on one’s emotional and mental well-being.
Of course we in libraries are keen to invite people to come through the doors and experience the well-being benefits first hand. The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Surviving or Thriving’ which encourages us to look at our physical and mental well-being.
Some of our offers are more obviously health focused, our health information displays encourage us to feed our brains with the right food and suggest ways to be more active, as well as giving information on managing and living well with chronic conditions. Poor physical health can be a drain on our mental and emotional strength and poor mental health can lead to inactivity, poor diet and so the cycle continues.
One way to break cycles of unhelpful thoughts and behaviours is cognitive behavioural therapy and Westminster has a free psychological therapy service, Westminster Talking Therapies.
In order to help people decide whether this service is for them or for support while waiting for a referral, or during, or after therapy, the libraries’ Reading Well Books on Prescription collections are recommended by GPs and health promotion specialists. A new collection put together to support those living with chronic conditions will be launched in July this year.
The Reading Well Books on Prescription initiative is part of our Bibliotherapy offer. Our libraries host read aloud groups in partnership with The Reader Organisation. These facilitator led ‘Share a book’ groups meet every week and give members the opportunity to join in reading aloud from good literature and discuss what has been read over a cup of tea or coffee or just sit back, listen and enjoy the company.
It is encouraging to look at how we in libraries contribute to what is called ‘the wider determinants of health’ All the things in our lives that support us, family, work, employment, housing, finances, education, lifelong learning, English classes, coffee mornings, knitting groups, activities for children and teenagers, employment advice, business information points for entrepreneurs old and young, all these available in libraries.
Libraries have always been inspirational and aspirational encouraging us to ask for more learning and knowledge and skills to create meaningful lives for ourselves and our families.
There are also some very good enjoyable fiction books available free to borrow hard copy or online! See our new book displays or log on to the 24/7 library. Did you know that reading for as little as six minutes can improve mental well-being?
See what you can do this Mental Health Awareness week to look after your own mental well-being, eat well, sleep well, go for a walk in one of our gorgeous parks and yes, visit your local library.
Health Information Co-ordinator
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
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.
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.
Shah 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.
Fifteen 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.
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!
“The power of music to integrate and cure… is quite fundamental. It is the profoundest nonchemical medication.”
– Oliver Sacks
Westminster Music Library’s five month programme of mindfulness workshops – Humming in Harmony – clearly demonstrates how true this statement is. These simple workshops, designed to improve mental health and beat isolation, connecting and bringing people together through music, have received lots of very positive feedback.
Created by Sergio Lopez Figueroa, a qualified piano teacher and composer, Humming in Harmony uses the human voice and the power of vocal harmonies in new ways to relax the mind, whilst providing an opportunity to get away from our hectic digital lives.
So what happens when we hum? I asked Sergio to explain:
“Music is energy, so by focusing on pitch or frequency and through conscious breathing, we feel the vibration, and over time improve concentration and focus by listening to ourselves and others simultaneously…. gradually we develop the ability to use this energy to interact with others, and to experience the benefit of tension and release in musical harmonies, and in our bodies and minds. From structured to open sessions, we can experience free expression, lead or follow as we please. We are each responsible for co-creating the best experience for the whole group, which makes Humming in Harmony different from other similar practices”.
It sounds simple enough, no qualifications or experience necessary, just turn up and start humming, and this is the really good part – singing and humming not only brings people together, it’s also a great way to relax, unwind, de-stress, improve listening skills and pitch recognition, and helps develop correct breathing techniques.
So with Mental Health Awareness Week fast approaching, last Saturday, Sergio – with a little help from Westminster Music Library – organised Mind the Body, a day of public health awareness activities focusing on music. Sergio demonstrated how the power of music can facilitate positive changes in emotional wellbeing, how it encourages communication, self-awareness and an awareness of others. The day included interactive presentations by health practitioners, case studies, a film screening and Q&A session, and a creative Humming in Harmony improvisation led by Sergio on piano.
As you can see from the comments below from some of those who came along, I think it’s fair to say people got quite a lot out of the day:
‘Something I would normally never do – it’s a complete change to my usual hectic life.’
‘Excellent workshop, made me concentrate. Therefore, think positively in the present and left cares behind.’
‘Uplifting! Great help after feeling low.’
And from Sergio himself:
‘Thanks for Westminster Music Library’s support in offering the time and space to start a new initiative like Humming in Harmony, and the efforts you’ve made to generate awareness. The event on Saturday was very successful. We discussed issues about health, showed some interesting videos, and had two humming sessions. Having the piano was a real bonus, the improvisation with keyboard and humming was very well received. Participants were asking when the next sessions are as they are keen to continue.’
I’d better check the diary…
During the month of April people across London have been reading the same book about riot and civil unrest as part of Cityread London. The story, called Ten Days by Gillian Slovo, is based on events when bad stuff happened, someone died and people just boiled over – they couldn’t take any more.
Sometimes life gets confusing and that’s when people through the ages have turned to books. Writing them, reading them – Shakespeare had a lot to get out of his system, and he did it so well that we remember him 400 years later!
Here in libraries we’ve a got a brand new collection of books for young people between the ages of 13 and 18. The collection – called Shelf Help – was launched last week and they’re already flying off the shelves.
There are books about depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self harm, living with autism and more. They are really helpful and some are funny too – you’ve got to see the funny side sometimes. Some of the books are a bit like guides or reference books and some are fiction but based on real people and real lives. They’ve been chosen by young people with experience of mental health issues, and you can find them in your local library, browse the collection online or even have them recommended to you by your doctor.
No one can read minds, and teen life is full of tricky times, that’s why Shelf Help is there for you in libraries now.
Westminster Music Library was proud to play host last Saturday morning to Sergio López Figueroa, a composer, social entrepreneur, and founder of the exciting Big Bang Lab. The event was Humming in Harmony, a fascinating collaborative exploration of music and self through the most surprisingly simple medium: humming!
The morning’s session was just the first of many, which will take place at Westminster Music Library on Saturday mornings (10.00am-12.00 noon) and Wednesday evenings (5.00-6.50pm) from now until May 2016.
The premise of Humming in Harmony is simple: all music is vibration. Humming, in particular, offers a way for us to feel these vibrations within ourselves – especially when combined with the various techniques and exercises Sergio utilises in each workshop. By encouraging silence and focus on the vibrations humming produces within ourselves, the participant becomes much more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Using these principles over the course of these sessions, participants should learn increased concentration, and improved focus not only on oneself but on others.
Our series of Humming in Harmony sessions will include an all day workshop on 14 May to coincide with the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. The connection is not accidental: Sergio has designed Humming in Harmony with mental wellbeing as one of the central focuses. In previous incarnations, these workshops have been delivered in care homes, community centres and workplaces, with a wide range of children and adults who may have experienced isolation, mental, or physical health conditions. Sergio stresses the health benefits of mindful activity, and tailors each workshop around the needs of participants.
If the experience was a little strange at first, our attendees soon felt relaxed thanks to Sergio’s open and approachable manner. His enthusiasm for music is infectious, and everyone was soon enjoying the sensation of listening to themselves hum – a curiously calming activity which I suspect most of us have never tried before! Sergio, accompanied by his faithful glockenspiel, had us freely exploring our vocal ranges before pairing us off to do partner exercises based on the musical interval of the perfect 5th.
The whole “vibe” of the session encouraged exploration, improvisation and group participation. Sergio was happy to hear feedback and suggestions from all who took part, which is just as well, since many participants were keen to express their amazement at what a unique experience peaceful group humming can be. Our session ended with a ten-minute “group hum” in the key of A. Had Sergio managed to teach us a ten-minute piece in this short session? No – instead, he had equipped us with ideas and techniques, leaving us to “compose” the piece as we went along. As the piece came to its natural end, the short silence that followed was broken by the exclamations of fascination at what we’d just managed to achieve. In just one hour, the group of strangers had been transformed into an ensemble, creating music together with just the basic framework Sergio had provided.
It truly was a fascinating morning, and I am keen to see what else will be explored along the way as Humming in Harmony unfolds. If you’d like to find out more about Humming in Harmony, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The next session in Westminster Music Library will be held on Saturday 6 February at 10.00am, follow this link to book: www.meetup.com/London-Music-and-Wellbeing
I have said this before and I am saying it again: even if libraries had no health and wellbeing information events or indeed other events they have been evaluated as having a positive effect on our lives, improving our mental and emotional wellbeing, making us feel secure, rooted in tradition and spoiled with free access to hard copy and ebooks, free wifi and computer use, English classes, computer classes and so on…
On top of this we have our regular health check sessions, stop smoking clinics and health information stalls on stress and sleep, healthy eating and increasing physical activity, sexual health information, read aloud bibliotherapy groups and book groups.
Our author events are always popular. We recently had the opportunity to invite performance poet Dean Atta to come to three libraries and talk about his new work, at the moment entitled ‘The Black Flamingo – thoughts on race and sexuality, poetry by Dean Atta’.
Dean’s mother is from Cyprus, his father is Jamaican and his poetry first came to public attention when he wrote I am Nobody’s Nigger and shared it by iphone, becoming known as ‘the iphone poet’. His impassioned work, inspired by reaction to the murder of Stephen Lawrence, soon led to a publishing deal. The title is ironic as the poem draws our attention to the way ‘the N word’ is used in media, ostensibly to be cool, but ultimately for gain.
In the session last week at St John’s Wood Library, Dean read the title poem and others among them Mother Tongue in which he explores the question “Where are you from?” so often asked of, and to the bemusement of, a mixed race born Londoner!
Dean also read poems from his new work, some dealing with depression, one in which he is brutally honest about his real reaction, how he really feels inside, on occasion when someone gushes about his lovely lovely smile. He does indeed have a lovely smile and was so open and encouraging when members of the audience shared their own experiences and views..
Dean is vegan and practices yoga daily, which he says helps keep low mood at bay, though sometimes going for a brisk walk, or writing, or yoga doesn’t help and, surrendering, he sits with his feelings with mindfulness.
As Ivana, the librarian at St John’s Wood Library said afterwards, it was a very special poetry reading. Dean is honest and funny and, even when sharing very personal feelings, has a quiet dignity and peace that is truly inspiring. Dean Atta is definitely good for our health, and we look forward to seeing him at more library events and workshops next year, for poetry and for real conversations!
Did you know that using a public library is good for your mental health?
“Library usage is associated with higher life satisfaction, higher happiness and a higher sense of purpose in life… These results suggest that libraries generally have an important role in library users’ quality of life and wellbeing.”
Today is World Mental Health Day so we’re taking the opportunity to talk about some of the support that Westminster Libraries can offer to maintain and improve your and your family’s mental health.
If you visit your local library today, you are likely to see a display entitled ‘Books on Prescription‘ – a selection of self-help books put together by health professionals that give guidance on managing and, in some cases, recovering from mild to moderate mental wellbeing issues. These books are available for a longer-than-usual loan period, and figures released today suggest that it’s a positive and useful resource (Book-based therapy scheme is a success) – so successful in fact that Korean TV visited Victoria Library this week to talk to the Reading Agency and our very own librarian Nick about taking Books on Prescription to Korea!
You can browse the selection for yourself on the library catalogue:
From the same page you can also browse a great selection of Mood Boosting Books – uplifting titles including novels, poetry and non-fiction. The books are recommended by readers and reading groups around the country.
You are probably aware of the wide range of health-related events that are held regularly in Westminster Libraries – from free blood pressure checks to Q & A sessions about different conditions, from advice on healthy eating to fun dental health sessions for children. But as the report at the top of the post indicates, it’s not just attending health-related events that can have an impact on your mental health. Attending any library events (and we have a LOT!) can improve feelings of wellbeing. In fact, there is also evidence that improved literacy is linked to good health, so the Health Information Project is working closely with children’s Chatterbooks reading groups and other groups within libraries to support reading as a whole.
Have you heard about the Shared Reading Groups? We have a wide range of reading groups that you can join, from the traditional ‘read a book a month and discuss it’ style to groups focusing on comics or crime fiction. Shared reading groups have a slightly different style – there’s no set book, you don’t need to read it before you attend – just come along and listen to others read aloud, discuss (if you want) and enjoy the books (poetry, plays, novels), the company and the free tea and coffee!
We can help. Libraries are a great source of information, enjoyment, social interaction or space just to read and learn. Come in and spend some time, join in with an event or group, find a great book to read for escape or to find support with the stresses of life. These links may also help: