Bradford puts money on libraries to boost city's health

£700,000 could be diverted from Yorkshire council’s wellbeing budget to offset library cuts

The library at Thebes was said to have the inscription “Medicine for the soul” above its doors – a notion Bradford council is set to put to the test with plans to offset major library cuts with funds from its health and wellbeing budget.

The West Yorkshire council is just one of the local authorities up and down the country which has dealt with shrinking reserves by closing hundreds of libraries. Last year, it proposed chopping £2 million from its libraries spending over two years, a funding reduction of two-thirds. The biggest cut of £1.05m was due to hit at the start of this coming financial year, until the council came up with what could be described as a novel idea.

At a January meeting, a rescue package was proposed — diverting funds from the council’s health and wellbeing budget to reduce the impact of the cuts on libraries. If the decision is ratified by the full meeting of the council’s executive on 4 March, it will mean injecting £700,000 into libraries, dramatically reducing the proposed cuts for the coming financial year and alleviating fears voiced by library campaigners and staff — who took strike action in October in protest against the cuts — that job losses and branch closures would be inevitable.

Not only that, but the proposal on the table is for a recurring annual investment of that amount. If the decision is passed, then it will be a firm commitment and recognition by Bradford that libraries really are medicine for the soul – an inspiration for other authorities who facing savage library cuts.

Libraries are social spaces as well as book repositories.
Libraries are social spaces as well as book repositories. Photograph: Johner Images/Getty Images

This week, Bradford Metropolitan District Council announced it was opening a consultation process for residents to give their views on the proposals and was also “exploring wider funding opportunities which would help support ambitions for a sustainable library service which meets the needs of local communities”.

Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, the leader of Bradford Council who will be presiding over the meeting next month, said the council’s focus “has to be on preventing ill-health in the first place, not dealing with it after the fact. And libraries have a big part to play in that.”

“A huge number of the decisions we have to make at the council are about the health and wellbeing of people,” Hinchcliffe said. “Books are of course hugely important in libraries but there are many other aspects. The social interaction they provide is vital, especially for isolated people. They host clubs and events, they provide information and access to the internet.

“We are remodelling how libraries work to meet the needs of the health agenda. Libraries are symbols of community and we have to be passionate about libraries and how they serve these communities.”

Bradford council’s decision was taken internally, the council confirmed, with no outside experts called in. But according to Dr Ricky Lawton, co-author of a 2015 Arts Council report into libraries and health, the link between libraries and wellbeing is well established.

“We interviewed two large groups, library users and non-users, and library usage was associated with higher levels of happiness and satisfaction,” Lawton said. “What’s often important to councils in these situations is the cultural value of a service ... We know libraries are beneficial anecdotally, but with our research we tried to look at how valuable they were in monetary terms, by asking people if they would hypothetically be prepared to pay for the services they receive.”

Bradford City Hall.
Bradford City Hall. Photograph: Mark Sunderland/robertharding/Getty Images/Robert Harding World Imagery

This was the first time he had heard of a local authority putting funds from health provision into library services, he continued, but “Bradford putting money from its health and wellbeing budget into libraries does seem to suggest they are subscribing to our research”.

Users at Bradford’s City Library tended to agree. “Libraries have tangible benefits for health,” said regular library user Paul Davies, “especially mental health.”

Another regular library user, Frances, who lives in nearby Shipley agreed. “I would say that libraries are definitely good for health and wellbeing,” she said. “Not just in terms of reading and what that gives you, but also the social aspect of visiting a library, especially for people who live on their own.”

A Bradford libraries card holder since the 1970s, she welcomed the initiative: “It’s entirely appropriate to spend money from the health and wellbeing budget on libraries. I see a lot of people using the libraries. Some go in just to borrow books, some go in to use the computers, some go in for a chat with a friendly face.

“If we didn’t have libraries, I think people would be very miserable.”


David Barnett

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Libraries play crucial role in communities | Letter
Letter: The peers John Bird and Graham Tope and the MP Gill Furniss call for library funding to be put on on a long-term, sustainable footing in the forthcoming budget


23, Feb, 2020 @5:08 PM

Article image
Saving libraries from cuts is crucial, say UK readers in survey
Online survey reveals public opinion is strongly in favour of protecting the library service, as protests take place against closures in London

Alison Flood

13, Apr, 2016 @3:53 PM

Article image
Bradford libraries face further £2m cuts
Beleaguered service is facing fresh funding squeeze, with budget set to shrink by two-thirds and professional staff under threat

David Barnett

21, Jan, 2019 @1:59 PM

Article image
How Bradford is setting health trends with study | Letters
Letters: Born in Bradford began in 2007 making the city one of the first in England to be able to monitor the health and wellbeing of its population in real time


08, May, 2018 @5:03 PM

Article image
Books are the best medicine: how libraries boost our wellbeing
From hosting Comic Cons to Christmas socials, these community hubs can do wonders for mental health

Jane Dudman

10, Oct, 2018 @7:33 AM

Article image
Government to probe 'devastating' Lancashire library closures
MPs’ alarm prompts culture department to investigate Lancashire county council’s duties to electorate under Public Libraries and Museums Act

Alison Flood

11, Oct, 2016 @8:30 AM

Article image
Libraries receive £4m fund as part of strategy to help secure their future
Cash for community projects comes as report calls for sector to be more innovative and raise awareness of services on offer

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

01, Dec, 2016 @3:36 PM

Article image
Northamptonshire may close up to 28 of its 36 libraries
Authors including Alan Moore and Philip Pullman join readers condemning move being considered as a way to make £115m in savings

Alison Flood

28, Nov, 2017 @4:36 PM

Article image
Banksy offers to help save Bristol's under-threat libraries
Artist comes forward to assist council after news that 17 of city’s libraries risk closure

Verity Bowman and Caroline Davies

04, Jul, 2018 @5:35 PM

Article image
Corbyn: I guarantee libraries will be protected under Labour
Party leader says that cuts-hit service gave him ‘a fantastic start in life and I want that for everybody’

Alison Flood

27, Nov, 2019 @9:45 AM