Local people and organisations came together at The Park Centre today for one of Bristol City Council’s conversations to look at the future of local libraries.
The event was one of a series across the city for residents to bring their ideas to encourage more people to use their libraries – and ensure their survival.
It was looking at six libraries within the South Bristol area: Filwood, Knowle and Marksbury Road as well as Bedminster, Wick and Stockwood.
There have been two previous city-wide community conversations – in 2015 people were against reducing opening hours and in 2017 there was strong opposition to the closing of the libraries which people saw as community spaces “supporting literacy and learning for all”.
Head of Libraries Kate Murray told a packed room the council had been asking about libraries for the past four years but this occasion was “quite positive”.
She said “…For the first time we have got some stability for the library service… All libraries will remain open for the short term future at least…It’s a chance to give your ideas small or large and see what we can do and how we can make it happen…”
‘This isn’t an attempt to try to close libraries behind your back’
Deputy Mayor with responsibilities for communities, Cllr Asher Craig said: “… This isn’t an attempt to try to close libraries behind your back, it is to look at services in your community and look at the best way to deliver that service and also how we can make it more sustainable.
“We want you to think if you have any resources or assets around your local area. It is something which could be moved into another asset?…”
She said the council had also been having conversations with young people in schools and colleges to make sure they were involved in the future of their libraries.
Some 500 ideas have already been generated so far from events across the city which the council will be looking at when they have gathered all the feedback.
Residents from different areas discussed their local libraries in separate groups. The Filwood group was led by Emily Smith from Knowle West Alliance who said footfall had declined in the library.
Built in the 1960s the building is now open only 22 hours a week and latest figures show it had 16,956 visits from April 2017 to March 2018 – and 903 active members.
Emily said this was an opportunity to come up with ideas to improve the facility to draw people in – or decide if it was better to relocate it. There was a small pot of money to develop some ideas.
The group agreed the library provided a sanctuary and safe place for residents to go – but needed to encourage different age groups to come and one of the issues was lack of an accessible toilet.
Rich Martin, Project Lead of Streetspace which runs sessions for young people said the only way to get them on board was to involved them in the process.
He said: “Could you keep a section with the library which would have to be designed by them and changed? They need to feel in a space they are comfortable with.”
Lucy Fieldhouse from Community Learning West said they had “wanted to put on classes” but it had been difficult to get in and to book – so they had used other venues.
And resident Ian Watt suggested putting flats above so the library could “generate some income.”
Bristol City Council’s Community Asset Manager John Bos told the group the building life of the library had expired and it could be relocated somewhere else or rebuilt.
He said: “…We haven’t decided what will happen to the land where the library is at the moment – the library stops where it is until we find something else, a new space where it could move….
“We don’t want to end up with library on its own, rather co-located in larger community building if people could go to a café or child care… If the library is part of a larger community centre it is reasonable to think it would be fairly self sufficient.”
At the end of the session all libraries came up with a big and a small idea to be taken forward. Those from the three local areas were:
(Running costs £16,255)
Small idea – paint the railings
Big idea – Streetspace to take a group of young people in on a Tuesday night and ask them what they want to do in the space.
(Running costs £65,300)
Small idea – local library open day during National Library week, change to bring people in who don’t normally use the library linking in with the Friends’ Group.
Big idea – with the redevelopment of shopping centre and plans for a new secondary school in Knowle – connecting with other local services for something different to happen.
Marksbury Road Library
(Running costs £10, 681)
Small idea – approach two local arts trails to get involved and bring in people who wouldn’t normally come to the library.
Big idea – get funding to install play equipment on the green space in front of the building and make the library a more approachable and family orientated space to get people to come up the path.
The next local conversation is at The Park Centre on Saturday 2 March, 10am – midday. People can also give their ideas online until 30 April by visiting www.bristol.gov.uk/libraryideas.
Main picture: Rich Martin, Project Lead of Streetspace and Jess Woodward, Youth Worker discussing their idea with Head of Libraries Kate Murray (centre).