Life after council cuts: Inside England’s community run libraries, the Community Business Fix Podcast meets the people who have saved their libraries from closure

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In 2010 there were around 10 libraries in the hands of communities in England. By 2017, the number had risen to 500. Up and down the country, communities are rescuing libraries from closure as cash strapped local authorities have run out of funds to keep them going.
2 Apr, 2019

For many, this move has not just kept the doors open – it has given them a new lease of life. For this month’s Community Business Fix podcast, we interviewed some of the people pioneering the community run library movement.

Archibald Corbett Community Library Arts and Heritage Centre in Lewisham was down to one member of staff and under threat of closure when the community struck a deal with the council to rescue it in 2016. Today, it is used by 6,000 people every month and offers a variety of services alongside the traditional book loans. It generates £40,000 per year thanks to photocopying, book sales, room hire and a breakfast and after school club.

Getting to this stage wasn’t an easy process. In addition to fundraising and haggling over the lease, they needed to find an army of volunteers to run it. A 10,000 home leafleting campaign secured over 20 volunteers working on three-hourly shifts.

Alice Sage, chair of trustees of the library said: “We were just were amazed by the response, really – all cultures, different backgrounds, not all retired people, some younger people. I can only say that volunteers can save the world, because they were all, and still are, amazing people.”

But taking on a library can be a lengthy, complex process. Also interviewed in the podcast is Emily Jewell from the Upper Norwood Library Trust, who emphasised the importance of research and sharing knowledge with other community groups.

She said: “Do the research. You need to really understand what you are taking on, what the condition of the library is in particular, because the old buildings which libraries can tend to be can just be money pits.  If you are going to do an asset transfer, you have got to get legal advice, and always think about yourself as taking on a business.”


Life after council cuts: Inside England’s community run libraries will be available on iTunes, Soundcloud, Tunein, Stitcher and all good podcast apps from April 1, 2019.


To learn more about community libraries take a look at these case studies of Kensal Rise Library and the Community Managed Libraries Network.

Follow this link to find out more about Power to Change’s Community Business Fund.

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About Power to Change: Power to Change is the independent trust that supports community businesses in England.

Community businesses are locally rooted, community-led, trade for community benefit and make life better for local people. The sector is worth £1.05 billion, and comprises 7,800 community businesses across England who employ 33,600 people. (Source: Community Business Market 2018)

From pubs to libraries; shops to bakeries; swimming pools to solar farms; community businesses are creating great products and services, providing employment and training and transforming lives. Power to Change received its endowment from the National Lottery Community Fund in 2015. @peoplesbiz

About The National Lottery Community Fund: We are the largest community funder in the UK – we’re proud to award money raised by National Lottery players to communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Since June 2004, we have made over 200,000 grants and awarded over £9 billion to projects that have benefited millions of people.

We are passionate about funding great ideas that matter to communities and make a difference to people’s lives. At the heart of everything we do is the belief that when people are in the lead, communities thrive. Thanks to the support of National Lottery players, our funding is open to everyone. We’re privileged to be able to work with the smallest of local groups right up to UK-wide charities, enabling people and communities to bring their ambitions to life.