Site: Jesmond Library
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Owner: Newcastle City Council
Lessee: Friends of Jesmond Library
Jesmond Library is one of eight post-war buildings in the North East officially listed as being of special architectural interest and awarded Grade II status. In 2013, Newcastle City Council confirmed its decision to close the library after 50 years of service to the public. The building was re-opened shortly afterwards by the Friends of Jesmond Library.
Jesmond Library is located in the shopping area of Jesmond, a suburb just north of the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne, and was originally opened in 1963.
The building, designed by Henry Faulkner Brown, is drum-shaped, which suits the restrictions of the small corner site and enables all-around supervision in the main part of the library. The design proved influential on future libraries designed by the firm, including a number of university libraries such as Newcastle, Teesside and Sunderland. Jesmond Library was awarded Grade II listed status in 1998.
In December 2012 local residents were consulted by Newcastle City Council on the future of a number of local libraries, Jesmond Library among them. Around 200 people attended a public meeting and a Friends group was established to campaign against closure.
It was agreed that if this campaign proved unsuccessful the Friends would prepare a plan to enable the library to open on a volunteer basis. In June 2013, the library was closed. It officially re-opened in September, managed by the Friends, now a limited company and registered charity.
The group currently have a licence to occupy the building. Although the library underwent refurbishment in 2011, the roof requires repair. It is intended that the council will undertake these works before the group conclude negotiations on a lease. Agreement on the scope of the works has formed part of the negotiations.
The self-opening glass doors are also an important architectural feature that requires ongoing maintenance, and the group have been supported by council officers to agree a maintenance contract with the firm that installed them.
A successful model
The library is run solely by volunteers and is currently open three days a week for borrowing books. When more volunteers are fully trained it may be possible to increase regular opening hours.
A strong volunteer base has enabled the Friends of Jesmond Library to extend activities at the library in line with suggestions from local residents.
The building now acts as a community hub and is hired out seven days a week to community groups, hosting arts and craft activities, language classes, lectures, concerts and vintage fairs.
The group have improved facilities for parents and small children, investing in additional toys and books, and have commenced a regular programme of monthly meetings on well-being for elderly users. There are also aspirations to improve access to the first floor to make better use of under-utilised office space.
The group believes that getting the make-up of the Board right was key to fostering support for the asset transfer process. The Board involves councillors from both the ruling and opposition parties to ensure that a non-political approach was adopted.
Its members bring a wide range of complementary skills to the project, and several of them are also trustees of Jesmond Community Leisure, a group that has managed Jesmond Swimming Pool and its staff for over 20 years.
Experience of another community-managed facility has given the council and community confidence in the group to run the library and has developed their skills to apply successfully for grant funding.
When the council closed the library it provided a detailed list of what support would be available to enable the ongoing use of the building. The group were also advised by libraries in Buckinghamshire, where enterprising community-led models have also been implemented.
Capital set-up costs for computers and furniture were covered by a £25,000 grant from the Catherine Cookson Trust (the author was a former resident of Jesmond) and two grants totalling £10,000 from the Council's Ward Committee grants.
Books were donated by the Council and Newcastle University Literary Unit, and others purchased at a discount from a nearby Oxfam bookshop. Local residents gave generous support through a Founder Member scheme.
These grants have also provided initial working capital to give the Friends time to grow their income streams, through hiring out the building, establishing a voluntary standing order scheme for library users and organising fundraising events.