Opened in 1900 by Mark Twain, Kensal Rise Library has been a pillar of the local community. Sadly, in 2011, Brent Council had their budget cut and decided to close half of its libraries. Kensal Rise Library was one of these, despite local protest and support from distinguished writers such as Alan Bennett and Zadie Smith. But the local community did not give up.
Since the library closed, the community has had to face difficult negotiations with All Souls College Oxford, the property’s land owner, and a fraudulent developer, to reopen it. After six years of campaigning against the odds, in 2016 they managed to save the bottom floor of the Library rent free for the next thousand years, and will reopen it in Spring 2017 as a community-run library.
When the library opens after refurbishment, it will boast space for reading and working, a room that can be used for community events such as ESOL classes, yoga, and a free computer station. Residents of all ages and backgrounds will be welcome and have a use for the library. Older people will be able to learn computer skills in ‘silver surfer’ classes, taught by young people who can gain qualifications in the process. Children from nearby schools will have a safe place to complete homework and research assignments. Unemployed residents will have a more welcoming environment in which they can search and apply for jobs. The Kensal Rise Library will once again be the heart of the community.
How did they do it?
Resilience was at the heart of how the Friends of Kensal Rise Library saved their library.
Once the local Council announced the closure, residents came together to campaign on the streets outside the library, holding a pop-up library with books donated by local residents and publishers like Penguin and by inviting children from the local primary school to form a ring about the library against its closure. Unfortunately, this had little influence on the Local Council, who ignored residents and seized the libraries books in the early hours under police protection.
Residents then proposed to run the library at no cost, but again were shut out by the local Council, who instead sold the building to a private property developer. Eventually, after six years of campaigning, the Friends of Kensal Rise Library, managed to win back the bottom floor of the building and listed it as an Asset of Community Value.
In 2016, the charity behind the campaign,the Friends of Kensal Rise Library, stepped up their fundraising to refurbish the library into a fully functioning community hub, and managed to raise £160,000 in just under seven months through a combination of local business advertisements, celebrity events including ‘actors’ nights’, cake stalls, special dinners at local restaurants where part of the proceeds went to their cause, a soul night at the local school, a rolling sponsorship deal with a local estate agent and personal donations, including a £10,000 bequest in a will.
A talented community
The local community made over 400 objections to the first planning application for the development of luxury flats. Also the Friends of Kensal Rise Library compiled a 70-page document involving hours of research, which the council took into consideration and turned down the first application.
They also raised funds by hosting Actors’ nights and Writers’ nights with high profile supporters including Zadie Smith, Tamsin Grieg, Alan Bennett, Jacqueline Wilson and Philip Pullman.
A strong brand
They also engaged with local designers to develop a strong brand, which celebrates the history of the Victorian library. This has helped their campaign stand out from the crowd, and create iconic merchandise to raise funds, including limited edition mugs and totes from a famous local designer.
Working with the council
Although their relationship with Brent Council started badly when they closed Kensal Rise Library despite the local community protest, the Friends of Kensal Rise Library have now developed a good relationship with the Head of the Council Mo Butt. He has invited them to shape the Community Library Strategy at Cabinet level.