Jesmond Library reopens after financial cuts in June
by Bethan Brown and Elena Campbell
Jesmond Library has reopened thanks to a team of volunteers who were passionate about keeping the library services alive, despite the removal of funding from Newcastle City Council.
In December 2012, more than 200 people attended an initial public meeting where it was agreed that instead of campaigning to regain government funding, it would be more successful to model a volunteer-run library. According to one of the team members, Chris Clarke, the volunteers looked at how other voluntary operated libraries across the country, in places such as Buckingham, had breathed new life into threatened services.
Around 100 people have expressed an interest in helping to staff the library. Clarke admitted that can be a daunting experience to train up that number of volunteers, and for that reason the library will be only open three days a week. Volunteer Anne Williams said she was keen to get involved because “it is important to have a library”.
The library has received books donated from Oxfam books, and the Newcastle University literary unit also provided books selected by Seven Stories. The Home Group kindly supplied furniture and Roots and Wings marketing.
Although the library is being allowed to operate rent-free, other maintenance bills such as gas and electric will still need to be met. In order to cover this some changes to the running of the library have had to be made, and a wide variety of events will be hosted in the building in order to raise funds, from story-telling master classes and vintage fairs to yoga classes.
In a speech declaring the library officially open, broadcaster and writer John Grundy summarised the feeling of the community perfectly. “At the heart of Jesmond,” he said, “is culture, the type of culture a library can offer. If it had been taken away there would be a hole.” Grundy added: “There is sadness that we are here at all however my sadness is eclipsed by the way people have stood up to the plate.”
Relief, tinged with sadness
Previous members of staff at Jesmond Library have lost their jobs as a result of the council cuts. Former manager Gill Hall said she was one of the fortunate ones not to have lost a job altogether – she has been relocated to the larger Gosforth branch. But she expressed sadness at missing friendships formed with customers at the Jesmond branch and says that many are now coming to the Gosforth branch instead. Hall said she was shocked that the Jesmond branch was selected for closure, given its recent refurbishment in 2011.
At the library’s reopening on September 21st, pride and relief at its return was tinged with sadness. Catharine Pagan, councillor for North Jesmond and one of the directors of Friends of Jesmond Library said the day was “a celebration of the fact we have reopened.”
However, resident Robin Brown was disappointed the library had to sustain itself, saying “it is appalling that the council decided to abandon us.” Another resident, Mary Macdonald, told JesmondLocal that the library is “an excellent place for the old and young to come together.”