Perfect partners Macmillan @ Glasgow Libraries

  • Cancer charity Macmillan has been trialling a new service at libraries in Glasgow
  • The work has been helped by partnerships with two local charities
  • We take a closer look at Macmillan @ Glasgow Libraries, and how partnerships within the charity sector can help build sustainability

As part of our new series taking a closer look at charities and the voluntary sector in Scotland, we catch up with Macmillan Cancer Support and find out more about its work with Glasgow Life and Cancer Support Scotland.

Annmarie Galbraith, Macmillan Services Manager, explains how the charity offers information, emotional support, counselling and complementary therapies in local libraries for people affected by cancer.

Make sure it’s mutually beneficial

Our partnership is more than the sum of its parts – we can do more together than we could ever do alone. It’s about adding value.

Macmillan Cancer Support was looking for venues at the heart of Glasgow’s communities in order to reach local people, and decided to team up with Glasgow Life, which has access to library and leisure centre spaces. In return, Macmillan trained volunteers, and its trusted brand helped Glasgow Life improve its offer as a health information provider.

Bringing Cancer Support Scotland onboard allowed us to offer counselling and complementary therapies to the people of Glasgow without requiring that expertise within our own staff team.

It also provided Cancer Support Scotland with an opportunity to reach out into communities and provide its services in a space that is convenient and comfortable, rather than within the grounds of the hospital, which people often associate with painful elements of their cancer journey.

There are clearly benefits for each of the organisations and, most importantly, for the people we support.

Don’t go too big too soon

This project began with a drop-in service at the Library at the Bridge in Easterhouse. It worked really well and the community embraced it, so Macmillan Cancer Support and Glasgow Life decided to roll it out across the city.

We now have services in 33 libraries and two leisure centres across Glasgow, but it was important to start off small and learn from that experience before we increased the scale of the project.

Relationships are as important as contracts

A good partnership is about communication and openness. Every organisation has its own culture, and partnerships are about taking the best bits of each of them. You can have mountains of paperwork defining how it will work, but when it comes down to it, it’s about being able to pick up the phone and chat to someone. We’re all working together to achieve a common goal.

Now we’re about to set up similar services in neighbouring areas, such as West Dunbartonshire and Lanarkshire. They’ll use the learning from our experience in Glasgow, but they will also have quite different needs and we’ll have to respond to that.

Even within each of our local bases, the communities and the people are quite different and volunteers have to be flexible.

Meet a real need

We know that cancer is about more than physical health, and that the effect goes well beyond the person who has been diagnosed. There is clinical support available, but people affected by cancer often don’t know where to turn to meet these other needs, such as emotional support or the financial impact of cancer.

Once you’re clear about the need, it’s easier to think about what each partner can contribute.

This partnership allows us to have a local presence in a safe, trusted space, where people can have those conversations, whether they have a diagnosis, they’re caring for someone, or they’ve been bereaved.

Think about sustainability right from the start

Partnerships are a really strong way of embedding a service and making it sustainable for the future. Macmillan Cancer Support provides the funding and expertise, allowing us to develop the service so that our partner or host organisation can commit to embedding it into their core business in the long term.

For example, we have committed to capital builds and developing training to create bespoke spaces within libraries to host this service. Now that this is available within libraries, our partners and volunteers can keep it going. Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Services feel like a natural part of Glasgow Libraries now, it’s hard to imagine us not working together.

Remember why you’re doing it

We make a real difference to people’s lives. For example, in one library we met a woman who had been in the library attending English classes. We were able to introduce her to a volunteer who could speak Mandarin and she explained that her mother, back home in China, had been diagnosed with cancer. She felt enormous guilt at not being able to care for her and it made a real difference for her to just talk to someone who understood both her language and the pressure she felt.