Scotland has an extensive network of free to use public libraries open six days a week. Could these be a new secret weapon in combating isolation among older people? Age Scotland Campaigns Officer Doug Anthoney investigates.
At Boddam near Peterhead a community group named ‘Put the kettle on’ meets every Tuesday in the local library for a coffee morning. This is one of several coffee mornings that libraries in Aberdeenshire host in order to provide facilities for older people to socialise during the week.
“’Put the kettle on’ was formed from community demand four and a half years ago,” explains Ann Stubbs, Senior Library Assistant at Boddam Library. “One of the regular library users suggested a coffee morning come book club and the group came out of that idea. It is open to anyone from the local area with between 15 and 20 people attending each week.”
Unlike many other groups that older people attend, the coffee mornings do not close down during the summer months. “This is especially important for some people who without these groups could become isolated in their own homes.” says Councillor Karen Clark, Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Social Work and Housing Committee.
A trawl through local authority websites suggests that Aberdeenshire may be the only council in Scotland that offers a regular coffee morning service across its network of libraries. Yet with 15 per cent of people aged 70 and over in Scotland seeing friends and neighbours at best once a week, libraries, as widespread and well established community resources, are ideally placed to offer a social lifeline to isolated older people.
As council budgets come under severe pressure, it’s clear that to survive, and thrive, libraries need to argue their value beyond core book lending services. With researchers rating loneliness as a higher health risk than lifelong smoking, there could be considerable long term savings to the public purse from using them to enhance older people’s social wellbeing and, consequently, their overall health.
So, when you walk into your local library, what do you hear? Is it whispers, shuffling, coughing and creaking; or laughter, chatter and the clatter of cups and saucers? If silence always reigns supreme, why not challenge your council to stop the shushing for one morning or afternoon each week, and transform its libraries into vibrant community cafés? With many more of us predicted to be living alone in later life by 2033, it would be one library service unlikely to suffer from low demand.