Norfolk uses data in libraries’ public health drive

Norfolk County Council has won a national award for its libraries’ health education work, which involves tailoring each library’s work based on local public health data.

In September, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals awarded Norfolk its annual Libraries Change Lives award for the county’s Healthy Libraries project. This involves activities in the county’s 47 libraries including pedal-powered smoothie bikes, hula-hoop challenges and neighbourhood lunches.

Norfolk Smoothie bike
Norfolk smoothie bike in use

The work also includes slipper swaps aiming to reduce falls by older people, which Norfolk and Waveney health and social care services an estimated £19m a year. The Cilip award included a £4,000 cash prize which will be used to support the project.

“What’s really striking is the flexibility of the library service and its capacity to contribute to the local health strategy and extend public health awareness in a way that works for the community, with this work embedded in every single library,” says John Vincent, who chaired Cilip’s judging panel.

“Norfolk Council and Norfolk Public Health are making sensible use of the unique strengths of the library service, including unmatched community reach, a trusted and accessible environment for a wide range of activities, and a highly trained workforce who can work in partnership to deliver real change across the county.”

As an illustration of this partnership, rather than impose a standard programme the public health department provided each library with health data on its area. Librarians then worked with the county’s public health staff to choose activities that best-suited their customers.

For Martham, near the coast north of Great Yarmouth, the county’s report for its West Flegg county electoral ward showed particularly high levels of adult obesity. “The librarians in Martham were very keen to look at weight management and obesity, as a direct impact of learning more about their community from the data,” says Norfolk’s public health commissioning manager for healthy places Nick Clarke. “They decided to focus their activity around healthy eating, nutrition advice, family fun-days.” This included using a smoothie bike, which transfers pedal power to a blender to create healthy drinks.

The data for Aylsham, to the north of Norwich, shows it has more winter deaths than normal. The county plans to work with the local library on a ‘Stay Well This Winter’ campaign, encouraging older customers to get a flu vaccination, order prescriptions before Christmas to ensure supply and heat their homes to 18 degrees Celsius. The campaign also encourages people to check on vulnerable neighbours.

“Because we know that Aylsham is a relatively high-risk place, especially for over-75s, we can use the library service to get that message across,” says Clarke. The county hopes to extend the campaign to other areas in future.

Norfolk draws on data from the Office of National Statistics, Experian’s Mosaic Public Sector service and Public Health England’s Public Health Outcomes Framework in profiling county electoral wards. “We use those profiles to work with library teams to get them understand what some of that data means,” he says. “Sometimes we come from different worlds where we talk of data and intelligence and people at a community level talk much more practically.”

Although the council is monitoring use of project through numbers of people attending events, Clarke says it is hard to measure improvements in health due to the time taken to update data. “There’s normally a two-year lag on the data we get through on excess winter deaths,” he says, and even if they improved in an area adopting the campaign there could be other reasons affecting the figures.

Clarke says other councils considering a similar project need to secure strong involvement from local librarians. “Get the local communities, the local librarians, to own the project for themselves,” he says. “They know their population a lot more than I do from a county perspective. I might have all this data, information and evidence, but knowing about people on the ground is really important.”

Video on Norfolk’s Healthy Libraries project

Cilip award announcement

Public Health Outcomes Framework

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