Case study

Norfolk's healthy libraries

Norfolk's healthy libraries

Person on smoothie bike
Smoothie bike in use. Photo credit: Norfolk Libraries


In a countywide drive to promote health and wellbeing, staff in Norfolk’s library staff are being trained in understanding health improvement and mental health first aid. This means they can offer information, advice and healthy activities, as well as signposting customers to find further help.

Dedicated awareness activities in Norfolk’s healthy libraries include slipper swaps targeted at preventing falls in older people and a smoothie bike to raise awareness of the benefits of the government recommended target of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

This programme was awarded the 2016 Libraries Change Lives award by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

Description of the work

Healthy library activity is delivered by library teams, working in partnership with Norfolk Public Health staff. Library staff, customers and volunteers have been able to tailor what happens in their healthy library to their local community. If local people express an interest in walking for their health, or there is an obvious need for a friendship group, then this can happen, with only a very small amount of money needed for staffing, materials and refreshments.

Library staff work with the Public Health team and doctors surgeries to continue to embed the Universal Health Offer in all libraries as part of the mainstream service.

Rather than impose a standard programme of activity, the Public Health team are able to provide health data in each area. Library staff can then work with public health staff and partners to provide activities that best suit their customers.

Martham, north of Great Yarmouth, had particularly high levels of adult obesity. “The librarians in Martham were very keen to look at weight management and obesity, as a direct impact of learning more about their community from the data,” said Norfolk’s Public Health Commissioning Manager for Healthy Places, Nick Clarke. “They decided to focus their activity around healthy eating, nutrition advice, and family fun days.” This included using a smoothie bike, which transfers pedal power to a blender to create healthy drinks.

Mental health first aid lite training has helped staff recognise some customer behaviour and the needs behind it. This has led to colouring groups in many libraries across the county which promote wellbeing and friendship.

Accomplishments / lessons learned

Staff discovered that once the programmes started, more people and partners wanted to get involved. For example supermarkets donated fruit and vegetables for the smoothie bike activities. The library staff also really welcome advice and guidance on recognising and helping customers with mental health issues as well as dementia. Having advice and guidance from a professional helps staff awareness and it gave them a forum for discussion too.

Bidding for small amounts of money proved to be a very successful way of engaging staff in the process, as activities could be as big as a community lunch promoting healthy eating, or as small as an informal colouring group, to encourage mindfulness, relaxation and friendship.

 Future plans

Norfolk has reissued its healthy libraries workbook to libraries so that they have a framework for the year to work within. This sets out a calendar of health promotions, as well as a place to keep stories about the impact on customers, what people said and photos. Staff continue to be trained to deliver the initiative and the £4,000 prize money from CILIP has been used to open a new round of bids from staff.

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Further information

Published 30 November 2016