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Hull Libraries brings bedside poems and stories to ease the pain for hospital patients



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A hospital in Yorkshire has become the first in the country to support patient care by bringing poetry, stories and chat to the bedside in a partnership which has its roots in the UK City of Culture programme.

Library Link has completed a pilot scheme with volunteers from Hull and East Yorkshire reading poems and short stories to patients in wards and waiting rooms at Hull Royal Infirmary and is now gearing up to return post-Covid.

Research by Hull Libraries indicates the project has proved a hit with patients, staff and visitors after reaching more than 3,000 people. It has also made a difference with the readers – one man admitting his involvement had enabled him to overcome his dislike of hospitals – and organisers are now looking for more volunteers.

Chris Shakesby, who lives in Sigglesthorne, said: “I applied to do this because I have an aversion to hospitals. Visiting the Eye Hospital and reading to patients took me out of my comfort zone and got me used to being in a hospital environment. I feel much better about them now.”

Launched as Reading Rooms by Derry-Londonderry UK City of Culture in 2013, the project was shared with Hull when it took up the title in 2017. Hull Libraries delivered the service at sites including care homes and a hospice and re-named it Library Link as they extended it into Hull Royal Infirmary as part of Flourish, a bespoke hospital arts strategy developed by the Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

Arts and Health Consultant Elaine Burke, who leads Flourish, said: “The programme is all about enriching people’s experiences and bringing creative solutions to health problems. Library Link is one element, taking poetry and stories and starting conversations in waiting rooms and wards and at bedsides. It has taken the hospital by storm and people love it!”

David Haire, Project Director – Fundraising, at the Trust, added: “It is part of a commitment which the Trust has made because we recognise that the arts and culture can bring clear benefits to health and help people feel better. The wider programme will bring creative improvements to buildings including treatment areas, wards and corridors.”

Jessica Leathley, Hull Libraries’ Audience Development Manager, said the plan is to expand Library Link to a wider audience including the Trust’s second site at Castle Hill Hospital as a result of positive feedback from the pilot programme which was halted by the first lockdown.

During six months at Hull Royal Infirmary the 25 volunteers and Library Link staff delivered 177 separate sessions over a total of 354 hours, completing 3,007 interactions with patients and reading 2,092 poems and stories. They reached 2,245 adults and 759 children and gave out 246 Bookstart packs to new babies.

Councillor Marjorie Brabazon, chair of Hull Culture and Leisure, said: “Stories and poetry have the power to uplift us, especially in difficult moments. I’m delighted that this project is bringing so much joy to people during what can be challenging times.”

The target for the next phase of Library Link, with continuing support from the James Reckitt Library Trust, is to reach a further 1,470 people by March 2022, depending on how soon the hospitals and the volunteers are ready to resume.

Jessica said: “There are departments in the hospital that are super keen to have us back. We were only running for six months before we had to stop and in that time we achieved some incredible outcomes so we are very much looking forward to getting back and there are some really exciting propositions.”

The volunteers worked in wards for elderly people, Children’s Outpatients, a children’s short-stay ward, ante-natal outpatients, two maternity wards, and outpatients at the Eye Hospital.

Clare Bennett, Hull Libraries’ Hospitals Co-ordinator for Library Link, said: “The professionalism and enthusiasm of the volunteers was really appreciated by patients and by staff. Patients were a lot calmer and more engaged after the reading sessions and the volunteers became part of the team.

“One patient told a volunteer they could feel their pain easing as they sat and listened and another said they enjoyed hearing the stories because they couldn’t read or write.

“Many of the volunteers admitted to feeling deeply moved by reading, by sharing experiences and memories and by bringing together patients and their visitors who, at times, had been sitting in silence until they were inspired by the stories and poems. It’s clear Library Link brings benefits to all involved and we would definitely like to get more volunteers on board.”

To contact Clare and for more information call Library Link on 01482 613602 or email: libraryvolunteer@hcandl.co.uk

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