A Newcastle library which had been facing possible closure has been given a lease of life thanks to a pioneering partnership between the City Council and a local community.
To mark the launch of a new chapter in Blakelaw Library’s story, children’s author and illustrator Faye Hanson staged a special workshop for pupils from the neighbouring Hilton Primary Academy.
Faye is working on her ninth book. Her eighth, Midnight at the Zoo, was published last year and her previous book The Wonder was nominated for the prestigious CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal in 2015. She has also provided illustrations for best-selling children’s author Michael Morpurgo, the writer of War Horse.
“It’s so inspiring to talk to children and encourage them. It’s a lovely thing to do,” she said. Libraries are so vitally important. Libraries empower people. They’re such an integral part of our communities. They provide support and they inspire people. They’re just such a wonderful resource.”
Blakelaw Library is now funded and staffed by The Blakelaw Ward Community Partnership. The Partnership also pays Newcastle City Council to provide its librarians, ensuring local people benefit from their experience and expertise.
The library will be shared by Hilton Primary Academy and children and adults from the Blakelaw area. It also caters for adult readers and provides computers to help job seekers and people claiming benefits.
Caroline Green, Assistant Vice Principal and English leader at the school, said: “The children don’t get a chance to meet a published author every day. I think it’s really important that they have days like this.”
She added: “People assume that kids don’t like books. If children are never surrounded by the right books, or people who are enthusiastic about books, they’re never going to like books. If you can show them a book that captures their interest and enthusiasm – and you can read it with them or to them – you can help create a spark that starts a relationship which is not like anything else.
“In the past people have thought of libraries as quite intimidating places. But the library’s a neutral ground – it’s part of the community. The library benefits the children, which benefits the schools, which benefits the whole community. That’s vital because we need support from the families.”
Nick Brown, the chair of The Blakelaw Ward Community Partnership, said the library would have closed without a new approach to running it. “We’ve made it much more accessible and multi-purpose. It is of paramount importance for families and young people and we see it playing a central role in the continuing development of the Blakelaw community,” he said.
Despite major government spending cuts, Newcastle City Council has worked with partners to keep all but one of the city’s libraries open. Moorside shut in 2013. Nationally, 350 have closed since 2010.
Cllr Kim McGuinness, cabinet member for culture and communities at Newcastle City Council, said: “It’s great to see a published author like Faye Hanson taking time out to deliver a workshop with local young people at Blakelaw Library. Creative workshops not only help with pupils’ and their studies but it may inspire them to one day become an author, and get their writing onto the library book shelves of the future.”
The Blakelaw Ward Community Partnership, which was created three years ago, is having a growing impact on everyday life in the Blakelaw area. It is the first community group to run its own post office and, alongside Northumbria Police, its proactive work with young people – which has seen incidents of petty crime reduce dramatically – was nominated for a prestigious national award.