By Naomi Bacon, LitFest Volunteer
Frantically working away in a makeshift office above Stoke Newington Library, my first day of volunteering with the StokeyLitFest team began with a tour of the Library’s old Reference Room, which is to serve as the authors’ Green Room over the festival weekend. Prior to the computer-age, the Reference Room constituted a crucial part of the Library’s services; sadly, however, it was shut to the public fifteen years ago. But for bookish people like myself, the room retains a quality of grandeur, heightened, if anything, by the dancing dust motes and ageing interior. Above all, the happenings that currently occur here have bestowed the room with a renewed sense of importance as the space is now occupied by the Community Library Service, run by Chris Garnsworthy.
I spent the afternoon chatting to Chris and librarian, Jaki Britto, about the work that they do, the most fundamental aspect of which is the home visit service, which entails monthly deliveries of books, films, CDs, talking books, magazines and jigsaws to housebound people in the Borough. With over 700 users, the service is flourishing, yet each user continues to be treated as an individual, their wants and needs recorded – be it their preferred genre, or whether they need large-print or audio – in order that an assortment of titles can be carefully selected for them. In addition, book collections are deposited weekly in common rooms at hospitals and hospices, daycentres, and nurseries lacking easy access to libraries.
In partnership with RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteers Programme), Chris has also set up a Hackney Telephone Reading Group, enabling the housebound, as well as carers, to participate in communal discussion via a conference call. Taking place every six weeks, the Reading Group, consisting of up to eight people per party, is free for those involved and books are distributed to each member by the CLS, including talking books for blind or partially-sighted participants. In 2010, The Times wrote a feature on the scheme, with particular focus on the work implemented by Chris, and in 2011, professional crime writer, Dan Waddell, took part in a discussion regarding one of his own publications; thereby gaining the scheme a national profile. Moreover, as Chris explained, the Reading Group has had an unanticipated effect as it has precipitated the formation of close friendships between members, bringing together people from across Hackney, many of whom come from diverse backgrounds. It is this effect of which Chris seems most proud; and rightly so.
Listening to Chris and Jaki’s accounts, it is impossible not to feel moved. When speaking of their service users, the affection they feel for them is clearly discernible – many of them are friends, more than anything – and I am in no doubt that those they deliver to feel likewise.
I cannot do the team justice in a quick blog post, but I at least hope to have alerted you all to the admirable work carried out by the CLS staff, each one deserving of mention: Jaki Britto, Lucy Bristow, Naz Rahman, Ali Saine, and, of course, Chris Garnsworthy. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me, and for your warm welcome; I’ll be back for more tea and biscuits very soon!
For a short film about the service, please see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjX2Ui6KgaA
If you know of someone who might benefit from either the Telephone Reading Group or the Home Visit Service, then please contact Chris on 020 8356 5238.
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