A WILTSHIRE charity is looking for volunteers to become part of a 'human library' that will help people to learn more about others’ lives and understand the challenges they face.

Wessex Community Action is looking for people to volunteer as human ‘books’ to be part of the library, who will then share their experiences at events. The ‘books’ will be people who have encountered challenges in their lives because of being stigmatised, said chief executive Amber Skyring.

“The people who volunteer may have a lived experience of a physical, sensory or cognitive impairment such as ADHD, or autism, deafblind or are dealing with some other illness or condition such as HIV that causes them to be excluded or marginalised ,” she said.

“Or they may be back, Asian and mixed race, homeless, have suffered abuse, be LGBTIA, a young mother, long-term unemployed or be battling an addiction. We want people who would be willing, after some training, to share their experiences and help people to understand the challenges they face. We are inviting residents to join a human library to help increase our understanding of the barriers that society creates intentional and unintentionally.”

Wessex Community Action will organise library sessions either online or at schools, libraries, universities, conferences, festivals and public spaces where groups or people can ‘borrow’ the books by putting questions to them about their life and the hardships they have to overcome.

“A book is a person who volunteers to represent themselves based on their personal lived experiences and can answer questions from ‘readers’ to help challenge what is being said, told or understood,” said Mrs Skyring.

“They are there to help shed light on the facts as they know and experience them because we want to help people understand one another, challenge their own often unconscious bias, overcome stereotypes and help build a more tolerant, inclusive society where no one is left behind.”

Anyone interested is being invited to apply to become a book, they may then be invited for an interview and, if accepted into the library, undergo training. Volunteers are expected to commit for no more than one day a month but no one is compelled to attend every event. Volunteers give their services for free but may be entitled to travel expenses.

Mrs Skyring said: “The kind of people we are looking for are like an open book and have valuable experiences that readers could benefit from learning about. We want them to be motivated to help challenge stigma and stereotypes through dialogue and conversations.”

The Human Library concept began in Denmark 20 years ago and has been licenced in 80 countries. Across the world many companies use the libraries as part of their diversity, inclusion and equality training.

Wessex Community Action has acquired a licence for Wiltshire and is looking for volunteers from all over the county.

“We hope people will want to volunteer so they can help others understand what they have been through and the trials they face every day,” said Mrs Skyring. “This is about raising awareness of residents who have those lived experiences, increasing awareness, understanding, tolerance and acceptance, and ensuring our communities are more diverse and celebrated for it.”

To apply to become a book in the human library go to wessexcommunityaction.org.uk/human-library-want-to-be-a-book/ or call 01722 326822. See also humanlibrray.org