Fun Palaces in Public Libraries: What, How and Why … the case study of Lambeth

Fun Palaces are one of the big creative things happening around at the world at the moment and it’s great that they’re in libraries. A particularly successful one in Lambeth caught my eye, through the good offices of Matt Finch who put me in touch with Zoey Dixon. She kindly agreed to talk about the project, give some advice and even sent some pictures. So, over to her, below, for exactly what a fun palace is and how and why public libraries should be involved.

Packing them in at the Library Fun Palace

Packing them in at the Library Fun Palace

What exactly is a “Fun Palace”?

Originally an idea by Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price in the early 1960s, Fun Palaces were to be a movable open welcoming space that brought together the arts and sciences. This didn’t happen for various reasons until now, when Co-Directors Stella Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings thought to have Fun Palaces everywhere, made by, for and with the community. Fun Palaces are for everyone, not just for kids, and families, but older people, single people, for anyone that wants to try something new and get involved either by being a participant, maker or both. They can be as big or small as you want it to be, it can be for the whole weekend, one day, or just for a few hours.

“Everyone an artist, everyone a scientist”

“Everyone an artist, everyone a scientist” emphasises the interactive and participatory aspect of Fun Palaces. This encourages us to do something a little different, and also get the adults having fun too. 142 Fun Palaces were created this year and Lambeth Libraries and Archives were 11 of them. What’s really exciting about Fun Palaces is that the community helps in curating the day. You ask them what they want to see happen in their library. We had almost 100 makers (that’s artists, scientists and volunteers) from the community who gave their time to for free, to help transform their local library into a Fun Palace.

Making telescopes

Making telescopes

What is your experience in Lambeth? How many people attended and of what ages?/ – How successful was the programme? Did you see new people coming in?

Any sized library can be a Fun Palace; our smallest was Waterloo who are only open for 2.5 hours on Saturday afternoon, our busiest was Tate South Lambeth who attracted 2500 people! They usually only get approx. 300-500 visits on a Saturday. We had almost an extra 5000 people visit a Lambeth library on Saturday 3 October, with most libraries seeing an increase in new registrations and issues.

“We had almost an extra 5000 people visit a Lambeth library on Saturday 3 October”

We managed to attract a large number of people that had never visited us before, particularly at Waterloo Library. The presence of Orbital Comics, who ran a comic book workshop with artists from Image Comics & recorded a special edition of their podcast attracted people who were willing to travel to take part in this exciting activity (You can listen to the podcast here )

Painting your bones

Painting your bones

Fun Palaces was great, a tiring day, but worth it. We learnt a lot (some adults seemed too reluctant to take part in the fun so how can we change this?) , and although we did see an increase in registrations and issues, next year we’ll need to make more of an effort to really encourage everyone that walks through our door to borrow and join.

(3) Did it involve a lot of staff time? Of what kind?

I was lucky enough to not only have the support of Stella and Sarah-Jane, but also Matt Finch (my co-producer), who were there to not only support and champion the library Fun Palaces (take a look at Stella’s Lambeth Libraries Fun Palace walk) but also connecting me with makers and running the staff workshop.

The concept can be quite hard for some to get: everyone is a participant and cannot just be there to sit, listen and watch but has to actively take part. This is why the first step was to have a workshop where staff, members of the friends of libraries and makers were able to come together to swap and share ideas of things we’ve always wanted to learn, just to show how easy it is to come up with things for Fun Palaces. We also held these workshops for the community too.

“Each library was given a budget of £200, but some only needed about £50 or less”

As co-producer (sharing this role with Matt) is was a huge task co-ordinating the project. It all started in April when I decided to do it. I then applied for funding from the Arts Council (which I did receive, but you don’t necessarily need. Each library was given a budget of £200, but some only needed about £50 or less). What followed was six months of many emails, meetings, and phone calls as I chased up makers to get commitments and made sure libraries were on track.

Illustrating with Katy Hudson

Illustrating with Katy Hudson

(4) How did you gain support for the project from within the library service? / What are the reasons for doing this project within a library service?

Susanna Barnes, our head of service, saw the benefit and the possibilities in hosting Fun Palaces and put it in on our Business Plan for this year so it was definitely something that was going to happen. I then obviously had to get the staff on board.

“Fun Palaces and public libraries make natural partners. We’re already open spaces, we already do amazing work with our community, this is just developing it to another level”

Fun Palaces and public libraries make natural partners. We’re already open spaces, we already do amazing work with our community, this is just developing it to another level with a co-ordinated national project. We were able to connect with lots of different organisations, partners and have things happen in our libraries that have never happened before. All libraries should be Fun Palaces, we’re doing it already, it’s only just one more little step.

(5) What’s your favourite moment from the Fun Palace this year?

I really loved that we had science experiments in the libraries complete with lab coats and goggles. Each library did amazing things. There was an intergenerational choir, zine- making, a Geodesic dome and cardboard robots, slices of brain, kickboxing, pasta making, greening the library, bicycle workshops, jazz instrument playing, Dungeons and Dragons, the list really is endless.

Zoey's favourite: A science lab comes to the library

Zoey’s favourite: A science lab comes to the library

(6) Where did you find out about “Fun Palaces”?

The wonderful world of Twitter. I saw that someone was organisation something in West Norwood (I was based there at the time) and really wanted to get involved but in more than just an option as a venue. A colleague put me in contact with Stella who was brilliant in connecting with potential partners, and that’s how I met Matt Finch, who was amazing in connecting us with such a diverse range of people, organisations and universities.

Greening Lambeth

Greening Lambeth

(7) What was the customer feedback?

We had great customer feedback. We used Culture Counts for our evaluation, and although we only got feedback from 153 it was all really positive. Culture Counts uses a slider from 0-1. Kirsty from Fun Palaces explains it like this:

For the data from the slider questions, 1=strongly agree, and 0=strongly disagree. At the bottom of the columns you will see the averages from people’s responses- as you will see they are very impressive! Just to clarify, .92 (your result on “it’s important that it’s happening here) does not mean that 92% of people agree with that statement, it means that 92% is the average agreement level- which is actually much more impressive.

  • It’s important that it’s happening here – 0.928
  • I feel motivated to do more creative things in the future – 0.862
  • I feel that I’m part of a community at this Fun Palace – 0.879
  • I think it should happen again – 0.923
  • Fun Palaces believes in everyone an artist, everyone a scientist. Do you feel like an artist and/or a scientist today? – 0.812
  • I will do something different as a result of this experience – 0.787
  • 16.46% had never been to the library, 65.19% were frequent visitors
Dungeons and Dragons

Dungeons and Dragons

Some quotes

  • Very high involvement of a large number of residents in a shared learning experience. Redefines the library in a good way.
  • Feeling part of the local community, seeing the library full of people who will hopefully come again
  • To see people enjoying the library as a library, beside the other activities going along with this use
  • The local community gathering to celebrate an important and precious public space.
  • Wonderful mix of people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying themselves, learning and experiencing new things – most appropriate within a public library. Thanks to great staff
  • Everyone was made to feel welcome, all ideas were encouraged
  • People being treated as more than consumers – and in a public space that’s free – a library!
  • I met new people as well as old friends, and learnt interesting things. I really enjoyed carving a creature out of vegetables. There was a good mix of ages/classes/ethnic background etc. I believe that there is great creative potential in combining art and science. It was a very positive experience overall.
  • It encouraged us to come into the library and I’ll be back
  • Finding this wonderful library!
Making a DNA bracelet

Making a DNA bracelet

(8) Would you do it again?


Would you do it again? “Yes!”

(9) Are there any other fun projects that you have been involved in or will be?

This was really my first big project. I’d really like to get more STEM activities in our libraries (I already Code Clubs) and I’m currently running (along with a volunteer) Python classes for adults on Saturdays. I’m looking at doing some activates for British Science Week with the contacts I made with scientists from Fun Palaces. And in the future I’d love to bring a Fab Lab into one of libraries.

Contact & Information about Fun Palaces



Fun Palaces 2015 from Fun Palaces on Vimeo.

Fun Palaces – 4 & 5 October 2014 from Fun Palaces on Vimeo.

A little about Zoey Dixon

Zoey Dixon

Zoey Dixon

A lifelong library worker, I’ve worked for Lambeth libraries for almost 16 years and have a MA in Library and Information studies from UCL. I’ve been a weekend assistant, children’s and young people’s librarian and now a Development Librarian responsible for developing the digital and online information offer. Outside of work, you can usually find me playing netball, at comic conventions or at a gig.


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