Inspiring libraries of today and tomorrow

By Catriona Kinney
Photo by Twechy

There’s a forest growing in Norway. But this is not just any forest – its trees will become the pages of a Future Library:  a special anthology of books to be printed in one hundred years from now. One writer a year will contribute a text – starting with Margaret Atwood - which will be secured and unpublished until 2114.

As a big fan of both libraries and Margaret Atwood these facts fill me with joy, but also despair that I will never get my hands on these great secret books (unless I’m alive and kicking at age 127!).

It might seem strange that Margaret Atwood’s book will already be a century out of date when it is published, and some have questioned whether the language change in that time will make it difficult to read. However many of the nations’ most-loved books have stood the test of time, like A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, published in 1843, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, published in 1813.

Pride and Prejudice and other books can be found in another new innovative library announced last month –and accessible to non-time travellers - Recovery College Library in Southwark, South London.

The library was opened for International Literacy Day by St.Mungo’s Broadway, a homeless charity, as part of their Reading Matters campaign. The campaign aims to improve homeless people's poor level of basic reading, writing and maths skills, as the charity found that 51% of homeless people they surveyed lack the basic literacy skills needed for everyday life.

Supporters of the campaign were asked to nominate which books meant the most to them, and the library is formed of over 100 of these nominations.

The best-loved books included The Lord of the Rings by J. R, R. Tolkien, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four was nominated by supporter Jack Davies because it's "a brilliantly detailed satire of our lives today, yet written some 65 years ago. More poignant today than any piece of literature or comment written now."

This goes to show that even books written long ago still have the power to inspire the hearts and minds of people today and in the future.

Here’s hoping that when the future library opens a hundred years’ time, everyone will have a roof over their head and the literacy skills to read the books.

Poached Creative provides journalism training to homeless and other disadvantaged people.

Food poverty in one of the world’s wealthiest countries

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By Yousif Farah

According to the UN World Food Programme, hunger is a major killer, with more fatalities than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. One might assume that food shortages and hunger are confined to developing countries in Africa or Asia. However, the reality is much closer to home. Increasingly, scores of people across the UK go to bed without having a decent meal.

October 16 is World Food Day. Set up by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in 1945, World Food Day sets out to raise awareness of the problem of hunger across the world, and bring about solutions to tackle it on a global, national and local scale.

In the UK, most of us take food for granted. However, following an unsteady period in our nation’s economy, the use of food banks has increased exponentially in recent years.

According to the Trussel Trust, the body responsible for running most food banks in the country, in 2013-14 food banks fed 913,138 people nationwide. These figures are just a snapshot of hunger in the UK as it does not include people who are too ashamed to use food banks and others who are cutting the size of meals.

Some 83% of food banks reported that benefits sanctions - when payments are temporarily stopped - had resulted in more people being referred for emergency food.  More than 30% of visits were put down to a delay in welfare payments. The second biggest reason, given by 20% of food bank users, was low income.

"We're often surprised by the length of sanctions people get," said Liza Cucco, the manager of the Hackney Foodbank.

Andy, a 47 year-old local unemployed electrician, visited the Hackney Food Bank when his benefits were stopped he says:

"If I didn't come here, there wouldn't be any food for me tonight. It's the system. But I don't understand why there's a gap," Andy was sent away with two shopping bags of pasta, rice, vegetables, biscuits and juice.

But food banks are not the only organisations tackling hunger in London. The London Food Board has interviewed hundreds of parents and children across London to assess the impact of hunger on their lives. Mayor of London Boris Johnson has set out to make London a Zero Hunger city by 2020. There is also a web tool – The London Food Map – to help those experiencing food poverty to find out where and how to access free or low-cost food.

Poached Creative is a London-based social enterprise that provides journalism training to homeless and marginalised people.

Tackling homelessness through ETE

Research has shown that over a third of people who use homeless services don’t have the formal qualifications they need to find employment or to participate in and enjoy full and active lives.  Numerous reports have highlighted the need for coordinated and specialist education, training and employment support for homeless people.

Housing support services have long recognised that housing in itself will not provide a complete answer to the risks and consequences of homelessness.  There is a general consensus that the availability of specialist education, training and employment (ETE) services has improved over the last ten years and have played a key role at local level, usually being seen as flexible and supportive by other agencies and people.

Homeless people often experience significant barriers in engaging formal education; the advantages are clear and include greater social integration, confidence and self-esteem. This would give a boost to homeless people who have a strong academic background but need to update their qualifications or to re-familiarise with them. Successive governments have also taken the view that paid work is beneficial in a number of ways; it provides a route out of poverty and it can address the sense of purposelessness, lack of direction and poor self-image that may be present among people who have not worked for sustained periods.

However, many studies have emphasised the need to tackle the problems and barriers single homeless people face in securing training and employment. Some of these problems and barriers include low education attainment, little or no work experience which puts homeless people at a disadvantage, problematic drug use and poor physical and mental health which renders them unemployable.

There are also homeless people that have a history of employment, have qualifications and can perhaps with help, make a move back into paid work relatively simply. In some cases they have complex needs and need a great deal of support before the transition to seeking paid work is a viable option. This means that there are unmet support needs, low levels of self assurance, a lack of interpersonal skills and also an inability to structure their time means they cannot immediately use mainstream services designed to help with job seeking, let alone secure paid work for themselves.

Research carried out by St Mungo’s Broadway suggests that people in this group may benefit from activities that allow them to develop interpersonal skills; emotional literacy, assertiveness and self-esteem, as well from programmes designed to deliver meaningful activity or ‘sheltered’ forms of employment prior to acquiring more formal qualifications.

From experience, front-line housing support workers have frequently voiced concerns that recent legislative changes have failed to recognise adequately the vulnerability of young homeless people and that individuals with particularly traumatic histories were at risk of being pushed out into mainstream programmes before they were ready.

That put aside, there is clear evidence that education, training and employment (ETE) services are beneficial to homeless people. The ETE sector has grown very significantly over the years and is characterised by innovation, diversification and experimentation with many different forms of service being developed.

Poached Creative has been working with The Big Issue to provide practical training in communications and journalism for people who are homeless and long­-term unemployed or facing significant barriers to employment. The training has been really successful and has seen some of the trainees regain confidence to pursue recognised journalism qualifications, write articles for print media such as The Pavement, The Telegraph, and E9 magazine. Some have found work as photographers.

There is a very strong need for coordinated and specialist education for training and employment support for homeless people by service providers. This is imperative as resources might be subject to constraint in future. There is a need for caution, in that it is logical to expect that wider labour market conditions will have an effect on ETE effectiveness.  Realism is needed when considering the scale of barriers that a minority of homeless people face in relation to securing paid work. With appropriate ETE and support paid work can be secured, it can help a person overcome the material and psychological effects of being homeless.