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Helping Gateshead residents feel connected

A year ago this week, Gateshead Libraries and Arts Services were bustling with festive activity, from carol concerts and coffee mornings to youth theatre Christmas performances and wreath making workshops. 2020 has been a very different year for us all.

But our enthusiastic team of staff have been determined to ensure that those older and more isolated residents in the borough are still able to take part and feel connected with activities. We’ve had to work in a different way, solve problems, think creatively, but continue to put people at the heart of our service – and that’s what Libraries do best.

Art Diamonds awards

Since March we have been keeping in touch with 190 Art Diamonds. Set up in 2018, Art Diamonds* uses arts activities to improve wellbeing in people of retirement age. We’ve stayed in touch through fortnightly newsletters with creative ideas, post out art packs, virtual tours with galleries and online workshops.

Part of the community

Our Art Diamonds have really appreciated feeling part of this community and sharing what they’ve been up to individually at home. Last week we sent out awards to 20 of our diamonds with a letter from the Mayor. These small acts make such a difference and we’ve had lovely feedback from the recipients.

“I just wanted to call to thank you for the nomination for the award and for keeping us all going this year. It was such a lovely surprise and completely out of the blue to get the award and letter from the Mayor. I’m so proud, I want to show everyone! It was so completely unexpected and I just can’t believe it. I have never won anything and to have that recognition. Thank you, I feel very honoured. You’ve made an old man very happy.”

Our Ring & Read service has provided books when the library has been unable to open for browsing. Customers call to order books by genre then collect their book bags from the library. It’s like having your own personal shopper!

“Every brown paper bag at the library door has its own story. But the stories they contain wouldn’t be possible without the understanding and obliging library staff. Thank you so much.“

Designed envelopes

Artist Sharon Bailey is helping those who live on their own feel connected this winter through her Home Alone Together art project. Rather like having a pen-pal, Sharon is keeping in touch monthly, offering creative ideas and tasks inspired by each individual’s interests, skills, or things they fancy having a go at.

Small acts of kindness

It’s those small acts of kindness we all do each day that have helped people feel connected and less isolated this year. I’m proud to be part of a service that encourages us all to take the time to take notice and its these things that have helped make a difference in 2020.

“A gentleman rang a Gateshead library this morning to see if it was possible to have some library books. We discovered that he isn’t able to get out of the house as he has lung cancer and COPD and he isn’t going to be able to able to see his family as much this Christmas.

We usually offer a doorstep delivery but he has missed our last van drop! Staff  wanted to ensure that he has a  great bag of books to keep him company and offered to deliver the books themselves. The gentleman was in tears he was so grateful.”

Dunk and Draw poster

*Art Diamonds is part of the Celebrating Age programme supported by Arts Council England and Baring Foundation.