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Libraries and Grants for the arts - Poetry on Loan

  • Date: 14 September 2012
  • Artform: Libraries
  • Area: National
group of female staff among bookshelves wearing love libraries t-shirts Staff at Hereford Library on National Libraries Day. Hereford is one of the participating libraries in Poetry on Loan, Photo: courtesy Herefordshire Council

Over the coming year we will be publishing a series of case studies that look at Lottery-funded Grants for the arts libraries services projects.

Poetry on Loan, led by a co-operative of representatives from library authorities across the West Midlands, promotes contemporary poetry through public libraries in the West Midlands region. It supports live performances and readings, workshops particularly aimed at encouraging health and wellbeing, training for library staff, commissions for new work from mostly local poets, and Poet Laureate and Young Poet Laureate schemes.

The project was awarded £37,694 Grants for the arts funding in January 2011. It has been running for eight years and has been supported through Grants for the arts since 2005.


Brenda Read-Brown, project coordinator, said:

'The project set out to raise the profile of contemporary poetry by establishing Poet Laureate and Young Poet Laureate schemes throughout the region, developing the skills of new, emerging and experienced poets by offering them workshop opportunities and commissioning work from them and promoting this work directly to readers in the region.'

The project also links strongly to the West Midlands' public libraries health and wellbeing offer, in the current funding period, using poetry to improve the lives of participants.

It was hoped this work would increase the number of readers of contemporary poetry and improve the quality of the reading experience through producing promotional materials and by presenting live poetry events.

Importantly, the project would also support public libraries in promoting contemporary poetry by providing them with high quality promotional material, offering specialist poetry promotion training to their staff, and providing further support in staging live poetry events and running workshops.

About the project format

The project has so far run 47 workshops, including reading and writing poetry, aimed at hard-to-reach people, or those who may have health and wellbeing issues - for example, carers, prisoners, under-achieving young people, hospice staff and patients, people with mental health issues, and older people.

'We have run three training sessions, involving poet practitioners and library staff, to give guidance on using poetry to work with vulnerable people; these were extremely successful, resulting in very positive feedback from participants and the initiation of several relevant projects.

'The training sessions taught us that including both poet practitioners and library staff together enriches the learning experience tremendously for all.'

What was the most useful lesson learned from the application process?

'That however good an application seems to be, you can't rely on getting a grant; and this makes planning very difficult.

'This first year has been successful in achieving most of our aims. Library staff are struggling under a number of handicaps, mostly due to budget cuts, but have used Poetry on Loan's support as leverage to ensure that poetry events and workshops, especially those targeted at hard-to-reach and vulnerable groups, do not fall by the wayside.

'We have been able to enhance the experience of poets and readers of poetry in the West Midlands through working closely with other promoters, including Ledbury Poetry Festival, Birmingham Book festival and National Poetry Day, to increase opportunities.'

Key stats

  • total project cost so far - approx. £31,000, with a further £7,500 committed to future activities.
  • the project has run:
    • 16 live poetry events
    • 47 poetry workshops, nearly all with an emphasis on health and wellbeing, and involving people facing related challenges
  • it has involved:
    • 41 poets / practitioners
    • more than 20 public libraries across the West Midlands
    • 358 participants in workshops
    • 528 audience members for live events
    • approx. 5,000 readers of our poetry postcards
  • it has provided 40 days' work for the poets / practitioners
  • feedback from audiences has been universally positive

Comments from the assessors

The assessors felt this was a particularly valuable resource for providing access to contemporary poetry across the region, especially through rural libraries. They commented that it was well thought of by literature professionals and poets in the region.

Get inspired and start your own application

Funded by the National Lottery, Grants for the arts are for activities carried out over a set period and which engage people in England in arts activities, and help artists and arts organisations in England carry out their work.

The £6 million Grants for the arts Libraries fund has been established to support public library-led projects that stimulate partnerships between libraries and artists and arts organisations, and which encourage communities to participate actively in artistic and cultural activities.

Applications can be for between £1,000 and £100,000 and can cover activities lasting up to three years, In special circumstances we can assess applications for grants over £100,000 for more major projects.

Learn more about our £6 million Grants for the arts - Libraries fund.