After Kensal Rise Library was threatened with closure in 2011, the local community and famous literary figures such as Alan Bennett and Zadie Smith united to save this public space. After five hard years of campaigning, which involved negotiating with the landowner, All Souls College Oxford, and challenges with the building’s developer and the council, the bottom floor of the building was saved. Now, the library has secured 1,000 years of rent-free occupancy and has reopened as a vital public space.
Restoring a vital community hub
While there were setbacks in the renovation process, pushing completion from 2017 to 2019, the delays meant that the grand reopening fell around the anniversary of Mark Twain’s 1900 opening. After an initially fractious period in the relationship with the local council, the library and council were able to reconcile and come together to celebrate the community’s achievement.
“When a local councillor came here for the first time, she said it took her breath away,” says Stephanie Schonfield, library manager. “It’s become such a beautiful space and without Power to Change’s funding, it would’ve taken so much longer to open this wonderful community building.”
Power to Change’s funds allowed the library to install features such as professional stage/disco lights. This has elevated the regular community performances and has made the space more inviting, encouraging famous faces to visit and making it a popular space for children’s parties.
Pre-pandemic, events including community productions, talks from authors, poetry readings and dance shows brought the community together on a regular basis. Other events, such as support groups, ward councillor sessions, mother and baby groups and yoga classes, were able to help fund the library and lessen its reliance on grants and donations.
Supporting the community through Covid-19
Covid-19 restrictions shut Kensal Rise Library’s doors for a significant period of time over the last two years, but it adapted quickly. It hosted Zoom events, with a highlight being an internationally attended partnership event with the Mark Twain House & Museum. The library has been able to help the community in other ways, as it became a vaccination centre and has hosted accessible sessions in a space the local people know and feel comfortable in.
“If Power to Change hadn’t given us the funds, we may not have been in a place to open as a vaccine centre to help our local community,” says Stephanie Schonfield, library manager.
Shoring up its future
Kensal Rise Library has been able to secure a commercial partnership with a local estate agency and continues to benefit from generous donations from local community members who love the space. For example, a local man left a significant sum to the library, and the space has installed a plaque in his memory as a thank you. It also sells local goods and merchandise, such as wines, tote bags and local art, and hosts fundraising events to secure its future.