For some, COVID caused isolation, fear and a decline in both physical and mental health. Now, thanks to creative sessions in local libraries, Renfrewshire residents have been discovering a new lease of life.
Candice Haston, 24, from Ferguslie, says she’s been going through ‘a hard patch’ after losing both her dad and her partner in the last year, all while looking after her mum full time. She said: “I don’t really have a social life, like I used to. But now, I come to the library and I enjoy getting out and the escape and relief this can provide. Especially with COVID, I’m still a bit panicky, but it’s getting better.”
Candice attended a card-making session at Ferguslie Library. The Renfrewshire Libraries sessions, which are supported by the Scottish Government Public Library COVID Recovery Fund, focus on art and creativity to help bring people back into their communities.
“For me this means freedom, being able to get out and socialise and it’s great for my mental health,” added Candice.
Library Arts Co-ordinator, Amy Errington, has been working on the project for the last year. She has been blown away by the response. She said: “For some, it’s the only human contact they might have that week and for them, it’s life-changing. I had one woman who is recovering from cancer and she said coming to the session was the first time she had been out of the house in a year. I had another participant who told me she sits at home all days and doesn’t speak to anybody, but coming to the group was the first time she had spoken for ages.
“You know that it makes a huge difference. Seeing people laughing, hearing the conversation and staying behind after to have a chat – that’s fantastic.”
Margaret Canning, 75, from Ferguslie, has been a community volunteer for over 30 years. She helped to organise playschemes for local children when the library first opened 40 years ago, attracting 200 kids to events and parties.
Margaret who is now in a wheelchair and partially sighted following a stroke, said: “The staff do a wonderful job and this is the second wee session I’ve been to and it’s been a tremendous success. I know everybody and everybody knows me, but I had a stroke and I lost quite a bit of my memory after being in hospital for seven weeks.
“It gets me out of the house and helps to build back my confidence. I was out for a smoke there and I was encouraging people I met outside to come in and enjoy the library – and it’s all free, it doesn’t cost a bean.”
The focus of the project is people who have experienced social isolation and poor health as a result of the pandemic. Sessions have taken place in libraries across Renfrewshire, with classes including embroidery, card-making, working with clay, crafts and other areas such as creative writing, book binding and notebook making, to bring the link back to libraries.
Valerie O’Regan, a visual artist and art teacher, has led sessions at Glenburn, Foxbar and Johnstone libraries, as well as Ferguslie Library.
She added: “These classes have been amazing. Some people come in a little bit timid at first, but once everyone gets to have a wee chat, they all relax and groups connect in our libraries which are safe places. Some people have not left their homes since COVID, they’ve been anxious and alone, but they trust their libraries as a welcoming and it’s a lovely, safe space.
“These are great opportunities to get together, be creative and maybe even learn a new skill and we all need a bit of company every once in a while.”
Pamela Tulloch, chief executive of the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC), said: “Libraries are increasingly playing a valuable role in not only supporting education and literacy, but also promoting social inclusion, tackling inequality and reconnecting communities. For many, their local libraries are a real lifeline and it is encouraging to see this working so well across Renfrewshire. As well-used social and cultural spaces, they are making a positive contribution to the health and wellbeing agenda.
“We’re committed to supporting our members to make the most of their spaces, ensuring they are constantly adapting to the needs of the communities they operate in, and so it’s great to see the impact the Scottish Government Public Library COVID Recovery Fund grants are making.”
At Ferguslie Library, Candice was proud of her newly created card. She concluded: “I’m finding me again and it keeps me happy. It’s brilliant to be here.”
You can get more details of the activities on offer at Renfrewshire Libraries here: www.renfrewshirelibraries.co.uk
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