Handing Over Our Library Space to the Community

21 August 2019

Eltham Library is a large town centre library situated in the Royal Borough of Greenwich in South East London. It has a busy program of events and activities and includes the recently opened Enchanted Story Garden. In 2019 Eltham library was shortlisted with 8 other outstanding libraries for The Bookseller magazine Library of the Year award.

We joined Fun Palaces in 2017

We ran our first Fun Palace in 2017, it coincided with another community led reading project called Elthamread who were keen to get involved. Suddenly we had cases of mud larking finds, clay modeling, a story sandpit and a team of knitters on board. The ideas and offers from the community came faster than we knew what to do with!

We built new relationships, made new contacts and talked to so many people who perhaps otherwise we would not have seen.  We have had some fabulous heart-wrenching, scary, wonderful moments being part of Fun Palaces. And a big part of that was letting go and handing over our library space to the community and saying it's yours, what would you like to do.

"Letting go and handing over our library space to the community."

We paid attention to who was taking part - and who was not

We looked at who was participating in our Fun Palace and asked ourselves who are we engaging, who haven't we reached, who doesn't normally get a say, who is left out, who are we seeing but are not really seen. Culture at the heart of community and community at the heart of culture means everyone having that opportunity.

We noticed that this has a knock-on effect on our other programming! The process becomes as important as the actual week end, you end up thinking about it all year round. Some of the people involved in our Fun Palaces have come back to us at other times of the year with further ideas.  Our mindset is now, say yes and work out the details later, no-one has to know the answers, we are learning together.

"Say yes and work out the details later."

the most raw, creative, owned, people-led thing

The best things we do are the things where someone from the community has come in and said 'I have this idea ...' If we can go with it we will and the process of that idea 'becoming’ is the most raw, creative, owned, people-led thing. It's joyous to see.
And libraries, because we are a public space are a level field for people to come to and for us to discover creative solutions together. As Stella says ‘there is no austerity of brilliant people.’

Miriam Storey, Eltham Centre Library