15 Minutes with… Cathy Saunders, Home Library Service

One Magazine’s Jake Tucker finds out more about the volunteer-run service reuniting Devon’s libraries with those who are confined to their home.

The Home Library Service is a partnership between Devon Libraries and the Royal Voluntary Service, managed by Cathy Saunders with a team of volunteers and funded by Libraries Unlimited. There are many heart-warming stories of how the Home Library Service has brought the joy of reading back to those who are no longer able to visit their local library.

The partnership provides free library access to Devon residents who may suffer from long-term illness, disability or those who are too frail to get out and about, by taking the library to them.

Cathy, Service Manager of Home Library Service, told us: “An individual does not necessarily have to be housebound – it may be that location does not allow them access to the library or possibly depression, anxiety or an illness where there are good days and bad days prevent access too. There is no age restriction.”

With over 30 libraries across Devon that are fully onboard with the scheme, there’s a well-established and wide area of coverage. From these libraries teams of volunteers work together with library staff to be able to take the services of the library to the home of the person in need. But with such a huge area of coverage, volunteer recruitment is the biggest challenge. Without them the Home Library Service would not happen.

“We get volunteers when we need them via all the avenues open to us”, explains Cathy. “Royal Voluntary Service has the vacancies on its website which helps us recruit. Volunteers come from all backgrounds, some are still working and may only have one reader while others are retired and have more readers that they help. We have a spread of ages and backgrounds but we’re always looking for more.”

Volunteers undergo DBS checks and full training is given to the volunteer too. This includes online training, some of which is mandatory. In addition to this, the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) has a strong safeguarding policy and support team to give the reader maximum peace of mind, and volunteers will always wear their RVS identity cards.

Volunteers create real bonds with their designated reader and although not specifically required, they are often happy to spend time socialising with the client they’re delivering to. The mutual love of reading creates great relationships, as well as offering regular visits which are highly beneficial to those confined to their home.

Cathy tells us: “For people who enjoy reading it allows them to continue to enjoy this pastime. Books can be provided in normal print, large print, CD format and sometimes on a USB stick. If the reader wishes, the volunteer will stop for a short chat while for others they may just want the book to be delivered and that is that. It maintains that link with the library and provides a friendly face bringing books each time so that the reader feels comfortable and looks forward to the interaction as much as the book.”

The service is proving to be hugely beneficial to both volunteers and those who are receiving the books. Cathy explains: “I think there is an equal benefit to the reader and the volunteer. Lady Stella Reading who founded the Royal Voluntary Service referred to the ‘gift of volunteering’ and I think for a number of our volunteers they feel it is a gift to be able to carry on sharing their love of reading, help to combat loneliness and hear the stories that many of their readers tell. We have some who worked on spitfires during the war and others who have met the stars of yesteryear – all experiences that they enjoy sharing with the readers who equally enjoy listening.”

“We have one 97-year-old lady who had not used a library since her childhood”, Cathy told me. “As her family do not live close and are unable to visit frequently, it is her volunteer who is now the main external visitor she has in the care home. She said: ‘Due to my age and mobility I was unable to visit the library and was missing out on my reading interests. This wonderful service has allowed me to re-engage in my desire to continue reading but also provides interesting discussions on a wide range of topics too from my friendly deliverer. I always look forward to my volunteer’s visits.’ I absolutely love hearing these responses.”

Anyone who is interested in becoming a volunteer and getting involved in the Home Library Service can speak to their local library direct or contact Cathy Saunders on 07786635163 or email DevonHLS@royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk

For more information, visit www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk

Author: Jake

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