While councils are closing libraries all over the country as they struggle to be sustainable, communities are taking action to preserve and modernise their local library. In 2016, the community in Upper Norwood in South London did just that.
How did they do it?
Surviving two world wars, the Great Depression, and numerous severe recessions since it first opened, Upper Norwood Library has been a fundamental part of the community for over 100 years. The building, jointly owned by Croydon and Lambeth councils, came under threat of closure in 2012 when developers took interest. In a determined bid to stop the closure of their beloved library, local residents came together in full force. Through protests, meetings and spreading the news, support from the community increased and the Upper Norwood Library Trust, a charity was formed. The Trust negotiated with local councils and in July 2016, Upper Norwood Library Trust (UNLT) took on the running of the Upper Norwood Library Hub (UNLH). UNLH offers a range of community services and programmes plus a professional library service delivered by Lambeth Council, co-funded by Croydon Council.
Now the library hub is open to the public six days a week, with up to 13,000 people walking through its doors a month. As a business, the library hub wants to become sustainable and keep the library open to local residents for many years to come. It generates income by letting out space for community use for arts, cultural and performance events, wellbeing initiatives, organising music and other events and other individual funded projects.
Margaret Adjaye and Emily Jewell, joint Hub Directors, are working hard to ensure the future sustainability of the library hub through fundraising and business development initiatives. In 2018, they collaborated with Disentangled Projects to run the Attic Arts festival, (now an annual event) for the community of music, comedy, drama and art which brought in some revenue through ticket sales as well as new faces from the community and beyond. By collaborating with other organisations in the community, being open to finding new and innovative ideas and thinking outside the box, the library hub can continue to be the glue that holds the community together.
As well as employing hub directors, a library hub manager and staff to support running of the library hub, UNLH has created volunteer host roles, enabling local people looking to give something back to their community and those hoping to gain some work experience a chance to work within a community hub, whilst gaining key skills for future employment.
Having learnt a lot from their own journey, Upper Norwood Library Trust wanted to engage, involve and network with other communities who run or who are looking to take on the running of their libraries, so working with Locality, the Libraries Taskforce and Libraries Connected they revived and developed the national peer network for Community-Managed Libraries (CMLs) originally set up by Locality.
In 2017, one of their Hub Directors took part in Power to Change’s peer network Community of Practice, a year-long programme to understand network theory and develop network sustainability plans with a £30,048 grant. Power to Change awarded Upper Norwood Library a £51,690 grant in 2017 to launch the national Community Managed Libraries Peer Network, enabling communities across England to get the support and guidance they need to manage their community libraries effectively. The network is constantly growing, reaching over 430 individuals, offering webinar series, networking events, an annual conference, a blog site and sector news among other things. The peer network is an invaluable resource for community managed libraries where sustainability is a key issue and shared learning is pertinent to keeping this ever-growing network evolving.
What is their social impact?
The library hub addresses local people’s needs by running digital inclusion classes, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), ‘Tea and Tech’ for seniors, activities for mothers and babies, arts, music and performance events for people to meet acting as a hub of social engagement within the community. It offers affordable holiday childcare and support to emerging local enterprises. It also houses the Crystal Palace Library of Things, the low-cost borrowing initiative which provides useful household items for the community to borrow and return, providing an environmentally friendly alternative to the throw away culture we live in, and allows everyone to enjoy the items without paying high costs for them.