Open Space: Evaluation of a library-based wellbeing programme

What is this research?

Suffolk libraries are running a library-based programme that offers psychological and wellbeing support to the local community. The libraries are working in partnership with Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust and Julian Support, an organisation that offers housing support to people with mental health problems. The programme, ‘Open Space’, runs on a weekly basis and consists of planned activities that encourage conversations about mental health and wellbeing. These discussions are free and cover a range of topics, such as assertiveness and psychosis. As well as these discussions, Open Space offers many other activities, such as group walks, colouring, or simply the opportunity to socialise and meet new people. Anyone can attend and no commitment to the group is required – individuals are free to come and go as they wish.

The primary aim of Open Space is to improve wellbeing by –

  • reducing loneliness and isolation
  • enabling conversations about a range of mental health topics to improve general awareness and understanding
  • signposting to other appropriate services.

The McPin Foundation are working with Suffolk libraries to evaluate the outcomes of Open Space so that this can inform future practice.

Why is this research important?

Open Space is an innovative project in that it is low cost and takes place in public libraries. It is open to anyone who wishes to attend, providing the opportunity for people from a range of backgrounds and experiences to interact and engage in conversations about mental health. The programme may prevent member’s mental health deteriorating and/or act as a regulator for their mental health and wellbeing. If this is the case, it could help reduce people’s reliance on mental health services, especially inpatient settings.  The project also has the potential to identify more efficient ways of supporting people with various mental health experiences so that they can remain within the community.

For these reasons it is important to understand the impact of Open Space by learning about the experiences of those that attend.

How is McPin involved?

Over the course of the project we are helping to collect evidence on the impact of Open Space by:

  1. Developing a concept model that will communicate how Open Space works (what happens), why it works (what it offers people) and what is required to make it work (resources needed and challenges to be overcome)
  2. Conducting interviews with clients, staff and volunteers to inform our understanding of the project
  3. Using other creative methods such as mapping and drawings to capture a deeper understanding of individual experiences of Open Space
  4. Producing reports based on the analysis of this information at the mid and end points of the project.

How is experiential knowledge contributing to the project?

Interviews with people who attend Open Space as well as with support workers and library managers will inform our evaluation of the programme, which in turn will shape how Open Space develops in the future. The McPin research team working on this project includes people with direct lived experience of mental health problems.

What is the current status of the project?

We have collected interview and observational data from staff and attendees. We will be analysing this data and then writing up a final report.

Who do I contact for more information?

For more information about the project, or to speak to a researcher, please contact Rose Thompson or Rachel Temple by email: and