Successful community-run libraries – Croxteth and Minchinhampton

The following information has been taken with permission from the GVOC conference on volunteer libraries held in November 2013, alongside further data kindly provided by Alt Valley Community Trust.

Liverpool – Croxteth Community Library


Liverpool as a whole shows decline

Croxteth, on the other hand, shows an increase in usage

Croxteth, on the other hand, shows an increase in usage

The above graphs were constructed using  figures collected independently by Liverpool Libraries.

Alt Valley Community Trust took over the running of the library from Liverpool City Libraries in November 1st 2010, taking on sports centre management as well.  The Trust relocated library to community hub to collocate with other services (Education) and it is now operated by 2 members of staff and one volunteer.  The library is integrated with community café and other learning facilities. Both footfall and book borrowing have increased significantly.

See also this video from the Community Knowledge Hub. “Croxteth Community Library Project is run by Alt Valley Community Trust, a long-standing Locality member, and based in the Communiversity which was created by a group of local activists who purchased an older people’s home then transformed it into a lifelong learning centre. The term ‘Communiversity’ is often used to describe all of AVCT’s activities, simply because it was where the organisation began, and it still serves as their Head Office and the hub of their Community Engagement work. The Communiversity is also home to Adult Learning classes and the Communi-café.”

“You will be interested to know that we are the only community managed library in the City and we are also the fastest growing!” Quote from Alt Valley Community Trust website

Gloucestershire – Minchinhampton

Minchinhampton Community Library was set up by a group of volunteers in response to Gloucestershire County Council’s actions arising out of the management decision to reduce spending on the County Library Service including the closure of a dozen or so local libraries back in 2011 and 2012.  Not an unfamiliar story from across the UK as Councils at each level have had to address the effects of Central Government policy reviews in light of economic pressures.

So, to set the scene I’ve culled some basic data applicable to Minchinhampton Community Library within the context of the County, so that you may understand a little of the situation that faced the community and that confront the Trustees now.

The town of Minchinhampton is set in the Cotswolds and comprises the town centre together with a wide area of semi-rural and rural land within the Parish Boundary, in all the population runs to some 5,400 people who live in a variety of locations spread across the Parish in the town centre, within the 3 villages and numerous hamlets as well as in isolated groups or individual houses – a wide variety of customers and locations to be served.  Minchinhampton is located approximately 7 miles from the larger towns of Cirencester and Stroud with another town (with its own Library) set 3 miles away.

In all, the County and Community library system in Gloucestershire currently comprises some 40 libraries (32 County Libraries exist along with 8 Community Libraries) with a varied pattern of opening hours from the two Central Libraries that open 54 hours per week to some smaller County Libraries that open only 12 hours per week.  Within the Community Library group, opening hours vary from 10 hours per week to 24 at Minchinhampton.

To give you some idea of what the Community Library here in Minchinhampton therefore provides on a regular basis, we open 24 hours per week on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday with weekly Bounce & Rhyme sessions for toddlers and their parents as well as monthly Library Club meetings for those who cannot get into the Library.  For this we organise and pay for a third party to pick up customers from home around the Parish and surrounding area and bring them to the Library where a group session takes place with books etc., being returned, extended or replaced whilst the customers enjoy refreshments and a social gathering, to be returned home afterwards.

Overall and on a regular basis, Minchinhampton Community Library deals with some 2,000 to 2,500 transactions per month; this is the busiest of the Community Libraries by far as the next library only deals with 60% of that level of service and provision.

So, to set up the Trust and get the Community Library into being took some 6 months of meetings to decide upon :

  • What form the Trust should take – we have proceeded on the Company Limited by Guarantee format.
  • Should the Trust also become a Registered Charity – we have done so and this required the Memorandum and Articles of Association to be drafted and agreed.
  • Who should be involved – we have moved forward with 7 Trustees so as to not have hung decisions when voting on any important issues and to allow a mix of ages / background and sexes (a maximum of 9 can exist).
  • On what basis does the Library exist – Minchinhampton Community Library occupies a building owned by the County Council but this was built using 1/3 capital provided by the residents of the Parish, so we have negotiated a ‘peppercorn rent’ and the ‘right to buy’ in agreement with the County.
  • How does the Trust gain funding for this initial setting-up period – we were fortunate here in that the Parish Council earmarked some ‘seed funding’ and the Gloucestershire Rural Community Council provided support and limited funding through their ‘Accelerator Project’ to cover some of the Legal Fees (£1,000 or so) together with the independent advisor who steered us through the maze of company and charity documents (£1,500 or so) plus actual costs to register a company etc (£15 or £40) and so on.
  • How does the Trust operate once set up – a business plan was produced to enable the Trust to gain benefit from a Revenue Agreement with the County Council that provides a yearly income of £10,000 for a period of 5 years (and more, hopefully) as part of the overall County commitment to Library Services.

All of the above takes time and it is important for potential Trustees to understand the level of commitment (in terms of time) that this involves; as a consequence, the majority of Trustees are retired persons or semi-retired persons who have the time to give to such matters.

I cannot stress enough the need to produce a realistic Business Plan to ensure that financial commitments and obligations are set out clearly for all the Trustees to see before committing to the process.  Whilst individual Trustees may be financially liable for a small sum (£10 in our instance) the issue is that the Trust and the Community Library as a legacy should not be placed in jeopardy by poor management at the outset.

Having set up the Trust and been given a hand-over date by the County Council, we had to proceed at a precarious rate to organise volunteers and an opening ceremony to mark the occasion and to gain publicity for the venture; this is another aspect of the Community Library world that should not be under-estimated, the need for publicity and information awareness for customers and fund-raising purposes alike.

Having our own stand-alone building is an asset to us but it is also a liability; the building had not been well tended by the owners in the last years of its use and the construction standards used to build the Library are poor in relation to energy saving measures that now apply.  Therefore one of the key considerations the Trustees have to deal with is better use of energy and more efficient ways of running the premises; this is an on-going matter that we are slowly dealing with but in the first winter we noted the vast amount of gas used to heat the building and also a significant amount of electricity used to light the building, that we are now aiming to address.

We were fortunate in that the District Council and Parish Council had put aside some s106 monies (derived from Section 106 agreement made against a development in the Parish whereby the developer provides funds for provision of local services or amenities) and as a consequence, MCLT were given access to some £7,500 of capital funds that can be drawn upon.  We have used some of this to replace older static shelving with modern mobile shelving that increased our shelf space by 15% and also means that we can open up the facility for a wider range of activities by moving the central shelving to the perimeter of the main room.  We have also used this for such things as signage, display boards and equipment to replace the older less attractive systems that existed, and so on.

Throughout our first year, the Trustees have organised various events at the Community Library including :

  • Holiday time craft events for schoolchildren
  • Book & DVD sales
  • Literary events (creative writing etc)
  • Support for the Summer Fayre 2013
  • Visits by the school Community Council
  • Visits by the playgroups
  • Gloucestershire Older Persons Association tea and chat sessions
  • Police community awareness sessions / drop-in sessions
  • Local History Group display area
  • Specialist events including the donation by an Australian author of books relating to the Australian Air Force presence in the area from WW1 onward
  • Quarterly quizzes
  • Summer Reading Campaign ( 80+ children took part locally )
  • Hosting of the GroBrain group for new mums (and Dads) with babies

Importantly, as we draw near to the end of our first financial year, we can see that our Business Plan was credible in that we can exist on the £10k per annum figure we used.  That doesn’t mean we can be complacent about matters as at some point, this funding could also be withdrawn and that would leave us with a shortfall of some £7,500 based upon the initial meagre regular income that existed when we took on board the running of the Community Library.

But this a positive and stable basis for planning the future for Minchinhampton Community Library and for the continuing provision of the service to our customers.

The most satisfying feedback being the general consensus passed onto our Volunteers behind the desk that ‘ the Library is much more friendly and enjoyable place to visit and spend time since it became a Community Library’ – this together with the Community spirit that is fostered amongst Volunteers who come and serve their shift of 2.5 hours a time with people who they may not have otherwise met before and with whom they share a common bond, to serve the community in which they live.

Taken its entirety from the presentation given by Chris Stone, November 2013

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