How 500 volunteers are keeping Doncaster libraries afloat five years after communities took them over

Private English and Maths tutor Emily Robinson, pictured with one of her students. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Bawtry Library MC 4
Private English and Maths tutor Emily Robinson, pictured with one of her students. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Bawtry Library MC 4
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Nearly 500 volunteers are keeping Doncaster’s libraries afloat - five years after they were controversially switched to community ownership.

Nearly 500 volunteers are keeping Doncaster’s libraries afloat - five years after they were controversially switched to community ownership.

Lorna Carroll, five, Georgia Stehenson, five, her brother Jacob, seven and Marlo Freddie Davies, three, pictured enjoying the childrens books. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Bawtry Library MC 2

Lorna Carroll, five, Georgia Stehenson, five, her brother Jacob, seven and Marlo Freddie Davies, three, pictured enjoying the childrens books. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Bawtry Library MC 2

And one of the facilities which closed five years ago in a wave of cuts is now back up and running thanks to the efforts of residents.

Communities rallied after former mayor Peter Davies decided to cut funding for libraries and bring in volunteers to run the facilities by the communities.

The Save Doncaster Libraries group was set up to fight the move and even went to court to try to stop the plans.

But faced with possibly losing branches, residents rallied and set up their own groups to try to keep their local venues running.

Volunteers l-r Anne Gray, Lead, Emma Raper and Julie Liversedge, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Bawtry Library MC 1

Volunteers l-r Anne Gray, Lead, Emma Raper and Julie Liversedge, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Bawtry Library MC 1

Five years on, bosses at Doncaster Council say the libraries are now run by volunteers on a day to day basis and supported by professional library service staff.

It means there are now 21 Doncaster libraries, with only four run by the council.

Denaby Library originally closed and its former building was sold in 2014. Askern also closed briefly. But both have subsequently reopened with volunteers carrying out the work.

The libraries are not without their problems. Officials at Cantley are concerned for the future of their building, which needs a lot of work doing to it

A spokesman for the council’s library service said a legion of volunteers are now providing an estimated 70,000 hours of volunteering per year for the libraries, with a total of 470 giving their time up for the service.

And many of them have used the experience as a springboard to find paid work.

A spokesman said: “Between four and 10 volunteers a month find work having volunteered in a library. On average 50 volunteers a month are volunteering to enhance their CV or gain new skills.

Coun Bill Mordue, cabinet member for culture, said: “Our model of community libraries is working well in Doncaster, and has allowed libraries to stay open and flourish at a time of reducing government funding. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of volunteers, we have a good number of well-run, popular libraries across the borough that are valuable community assets, and often act as hubs for activities and community groups too.”

Today, officials at some of the libraries told how they have managed to keep services afloat since cutting ties from the 
council.

Anne Gray, Lead Volunteer and Trustee, Bawtry Community Library:

There were initial challenges setting up and running Bawtry Community Library as a business and also setting it up as a charity.

In the beginning the venue was supported by Mick and Jackie McGuire and George Spencer who were knowledgeable about business issues. They made us think positively about keeping the library open.

Today Bawtry Community Library is a thriving and very successful venture which is managed by a Board of Trustees. An Operational Support Group oversees the day to day management and works in partnership with DMBC Library Services. There is a committed team of about 75 volunteers who keep the library open six days a week: 9.15am to 6.00pm Monday to Friday and 10.00am to 2.00pm every Saturday. We are an important part of the community providing support and helping to keep local people connected. We are a hub where local information, posters and leaflets are available.

As well as offering library services on a daily basis there is an excellent second hand book shop, daily newspapers, a photocopying service, monthly coffee mornings, a book group, author visits, French classes, children’s activities and computer help and guidance sessions. Additionally there are eight public computers which provide internet access and printing.

A meeting room is available which is currently used for local community health appointments and surgeries held by Councillor Rachael Blake.

We also provide placements for young people who are taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh programme and have links with Wilsic Hall School and Bawtry Mayflower Primary School.

Paul Coddington, Chairman, Cantley Community Library Ltd:

Cantley Library is in the heart of the community and provides much more than the loan of books. It is used by our older residents as well as by many local young people and is vitally important to the well-being of the area. This has been confirmed by the refusal of the community to let the library close or move to a less suitable location. The strength of feeling is reflected in the number of people who came forward to work in the library.

Cantley Community Library Ltd is certainly a viable organisation and has continued to maintain its position as one of the top functioning libraries in the town. We are open on six days each week and have approximately 2,690 members of which 1,266 are regular users. The library has some 30 wonderful, supportive, reliable and effective volunteers. Feedback from library users is extremely good and surveys tell us that members are very happy with the staff. We believe that we are functioning very successfully.

The committee were given the opportunity by DMBC to run the library at its original location providing we undertook to raise the money to refurbish the building over a four-year timescale. The old wooden building is the big problem as we are told, from a recent survey, that it has a life of between three to five years. The structure of the building appears to have suffered from lack of maintenance over the years and has deteriorated badly. Whilst it can be repaired the survey suggests this may not be cost effective.

We are looking at developing and extending the library as a community hub and are working with a consultant in the hope of sourcing the means to eventually provide a new building.

Zoe Garnett Askern and Denaby Library:

Askern and Denaby Community Libraries have been overseen for the past couple of years by the Doncaster book recycling firm ReRead, despite being either side of the boundary and being two totally different libraries.

Askern shut as a going concern in July 2013 and reopened in the same September with a manager and volunteers. It is a purpose built library with a community room upstairs which is hired out to various local groups on demand.

Many customers returned since there had been publicity that it was only closing briefly and it stands on a street where Askernites pass up and down regularly. As well as library books, it has a corner where second hand books are sold cheaply and children’s books are given away as part of the ReRead remit. The library also has computers for use and offers tea and coffee cheaply for anyone who requests it.

Denaby Library is tucked in a corner of the Springwell Health Centre and shares its premises with a social group - The Bump It Group - and Citizens Advice. It reopened in 2014 after the original building was sold and locals are just realising that they have a library again. ReRead stepped in again and reopened it and with a similar goal, so it offers library books, sells used books and offers free childrens’s books. Being in a health centre, the library also attracts passing trade.

Read more on Doncaster’s community libraries in Thursday’s Doncaster Free Press