Libraries Change Lives Winner 2017 – Cognitive Stimulation Therapy at HMP Norwich Library
The Cognitive Stimulation Programme at HMP Norwich arose from a collaboration between the library and local charitable group The Forget-Me-Nots. The library team were looking for ways to get more involved with the Older Person’s Wing, where take up of our traditional service had been quite limited. The Forget-Me-Nots, a group that provide Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) groups to people with memory loss and dementia, had become aware of a group of ‘forgotten’ older people with high levels of need at HMP Norwich, and were looking for a way to provide a service to them. Fortunately the two groups found each other and a wonderful partnership was born...and more than five years on the programme is still running weekly, the recipient of CILIP’s Libraries Change Lives Awards 2017!
As an HMP Norwich Librarian, I put the project forward for consideration because I am immensely proud of the group and wanted to share something of our experiences, with the hope of encouraging other libraries or prisons to consider similar projects. The HMP Norwich CST group is a fun, sociable and creative therapeutic group which provides a life line for a group of socially excluded and isolated elderly prisoners, and has a demonstrable positive effect on the wellbeing of all involved, and I wanted to share the experience more widely.
Naturally we were delighted to be shortlisted, and when we told our group participants they were really pleased. As part of the process, we had the opportunity to have a short film made about the group. Filming in prisons is a very complicated and challenging thing to undertake, and it took a lot of organising. We were kept very busy for a while obtaining the various permissions and exemptions required and persuading the establishment and the National Press Office that this was something they should get on board with. There were a lot of discussions around safe guarding, victim protection and confidentiality to be had and also the ability of our participants to consent to being involved had to be carefully assessed. Eventually it was all organised and we were able to make our film. This turned out, to the surprise of the volunteers if not of the group members, to be a really positive experience. CILIP’s film director, Martin, seemed to understand the essence of the group from the start and made everybody feel relaxed and comfortable. He also very skilfully managed to protect the participant’s identity and prevent faces being seen on camera. The participants were very happy to be interviewed, and I feel the short film perfectly captures the feel and atmosphere of the group. Once the film was cleared for viewing we were able to show it to our group members, who were very moved to see themselves represented on the screen. The 3 minute film can be viewed here.
Our participants were also delighted to welcome the CILIP judging panel who visited us in September. They were plied with tea and cake and took part in a game of skittles and quite a bit of singing, while several of our group members put a good word in for us. Generally the whole process was very enjoyable and there was an air of excitement about the prison, with lots of staff wishing us luck.
It was a fantastic shortlist that year – Kirklees Libraries story walks for children, Glasgow Women’s Library’s book group focusing on equality and diversity and the work of women of colour and Suffolk Libraries support for migrant women were all inspiring and brilliant projects. In the context of such great practice it was incredibly exciting to be named as the winners of Libraries Change Lives 2017 – we are all so incredibly proud, especially as this made it two years in a row for Norfolk County Library and Information Service. Being handed the award by Chris Riddell was a real highlight. I’d travelled up with my copy of The Sleeper and the Spindle and got it autographed, but I wish I’d been brave enough to ask for a portrait like our colleagues from Kirklees! We came back to a rousing welcome from our prisoner group who were over the moon on our behalf. We were all especially glad to see the Forget-Me-Nots recognised for their dedicated, skilled and compassionate work, which has had such a positive impact on so many older people.
Janet Holden, Gemma Williams and Sarah Bluckert with Chris Riddell at the winners’ ceremony 2017. Photo by Rolf Marriott.
Winning Libraries Change Lives 2017 has given us lots of opportunities and has been a wonderful chance to raise the profile of libraries, prison libraries in particular and of Cognitive Stimulation Therapy. The project was featured on the Prison and Probation Service Homepage and in publications as far afield as the USA and Australia, with lots of people getting in touch to find out more. We have interest from research bodies and the raised profile has brought us several new volunteers. The CILIP award has completely funded the project to run for another year and will enable us to update our resources and help in setting up another prison CST group, due to start soon at HMP Bure. This was inspired by the HMP Norwich library group, and the recognition from CILIP went a long way to making the case to get this group underway.
Being part of Libraries Change Lives 2017 was a thoroughly positive experience for all of us. It was a wonderful opportunity to spread the word about the vital and life enhancing work going on in libraries all over the country, and to be inspired by the other excellent projects that were highlighted. Every day libraries are changing lives for the better – and that’s certainly something to celebrate!
HMP Norwich Librarian
Entries are open for the 2018 Libraries Change Lives Awards. For more information and to find out how to apply click here.