by Wendy Lansdown
Walk into Soham Library on a Wednesday morning and it’s full of life. When we started our Drop In in the early days of Neighbourhood Cares we weren’t sure what we were creating, we just promised a place where the local community could come for free where there would be a kettle and someone to listen. First week we helped someone apply for a blue badge, second week no one came.
Eighteen months on, the place is filled with laughter, a regular gang who attend and new people popping in for advice, or just a cuppa. It’s evolved based on what people want it to be and the energy they bring. Sometimes we play cards, sometimes we just chat, next week a new attendee is going to share her passion for knitting.
Dave, Anwar and Andrew are regular volunteers and we offer them Time Credits to thank them for their valued support. They take charge of refreshments, help the conversation flow and make connections…lots and lots of connections. From lift sharing to gardening, support through the tough times to DIY, the Drop In has led to people getting to know each other, and staying in touch outside of the sessions.
It’s come to be a place of respite for some. People enjoy visiting the Drop In whilst their carers have a short break – or sometimes just join us in another part of the Library for individual support or for one of the groups which run in parallel. One is the Diabetes Support Group, this is Anwar’s brainchild, he has diabetes himself and wanted to provide a space to share advice with peers. With a helping hand from Diabetes UK the group now runs once a month, with the local surgery and pharmacy helping connect people with the group.
We are so pleased to call the Library our home. It works, people feel comfortable coming in, there’s no label above the door that implies you are coming here because you have a problem.
The room our team use is crowded with items that members of the community have passed to us to benefit other people – wheelchairs, walking frames, and various other things that might help someone to maintain independence. Then there’s the ‘knitted goods’, the home made greetings cards and the boxes of chocolates that are regularly donated for our monthly raffle and other community projects.
We’ve welcomed people to create with us. An older lady we work with was no longer able to have her own dog, it was heart-breaking for her. On hearing this two local dog lovers came up with an idea and within weeks Soham Friendly Dogs was born! A bunch of friendly dogs and friendly people come together once a month in the Community room, again with our trusty kettle. A simple idea that makes a real difference.
We work with amazing Library staff who see the Library as being about so much more than books. Carol and Janine know everyone, everyone knows them and finds them approachable and helpful. They are good listeners and put people in touch with things that work for them…books, events, people. Once a month Carol runs Engage in the Afternoon, the community room buzzes with a range of topics from Witchcraft to an Auctioneer’s tales. She builds ideas with people. The Soham community laments the demise of the local market, through conversation Carol and one of our volunteers have come up with the idea of the Library hosting a Farmers Market come Arts and Crafts Fair. It’s at ideas stage and there’s more thinking to do, but with these two at the helm, I think it can fly.
Michelle, another library team member is also creative, she was the inventor of the House of Horrors, turning the unseen rooms of the Library into a truly scary Halloween experience. The local college got involved in a Zombie walk to promote it and suddenly the library was the place-to-be for teenagers in Soham.
The Library also helped to incubate the newly formed Soham Community Association (SCA). The idea for which arose at a Community Lunch – a quarterly informal meeting of Community partners which is hosted in the library. Attendees identified a need for a new organisation to build partnership and communication in the town. The Library provided a meeting space in the early days whilst the Association found its feet with advice from Ben from Support Cambridgeshire. Our team have been able to share with SCA some of the themes we hear in terms of challenges facing the community. A recurring one has been the lack of transport even at a hyper-local level, it was this that led to the #Nellie4Soham campaign which, with Soham Community Association’s support has just bought a Tuk Tuk which will be fuelled by volunteers as local community transport. Nellie is due to meet the community soon at a Soham Community Association event. Neighbourhood Cares will be cutting her ribbon to welcome her along with partners Viva Arts and Community Group and Soham Men’s Shed. It’s all about strong local partnership. Partnership has led to the Library hosting a range of other activities too, from Repair Cafés to Volunteer Fairs, Dementia support sessions with the Alzheimers’ Society to intergenerational rock painting, it’s proved the perfect home.
The Library is currently being refurbished and part of the building converted into Little Wombatz Pre-school. Initially we heard fears from residents about losing part of their beloved library, but it wasn’t long before people started spotting opportunities, wondering if there was a way to link our new neighbours into Library life. The manager of Little Wombatz Lucy is at the heart of the Soham Community (in fact, she’s just been named Townsperson of the Year!) and she’s keen to work with our team to explore the chance to develop intergenerational interaction, so far suggestions from the community have included inviting the toddlers to our Coffee mornings and even perhaps Storytime with Friendly Dogs, watch this space…