Community library that was ahead of the trend

Six years ago, Co-op Loan Fund, working with other organisations, helped the people of Denton West End in Greater Manchester to save their library by buying it from the local authority.

We asked Ian Wilson, Chairman of Denton West End Community Library, what difference six years of community-ownership had made.

“The main difference is that we saved the library from closure,” he said. “It is now open four days a week and has over 1,500 members. We’ve also made significant repairs and improvements to the building including a new toilet, improved access and multi-purpose flooring.
“We have had to diversify to be sustainable. Lending books is still our core activity but the library has become a wider community facility.”

The library receives no funding from the local authority. Instead it relies on three income streams: a full programme of fund-raising events, room hire to various local groups including dance and martial arts, and donations from individuals and businesses. Ian Wilson said he was surprised to find that each of the three income streams provided a similar annual total.

There are no paid employees. The charitable incorporated organisation is managed by a board of 15 trustees and supported by 50 volunteers.

“Running the library with volunteers has really brought the community together,” said Ian Wilson. “It is a very welcoming place where new friendships have been formed.
“Looking ahead, we are constantly aware of the need to keep the community engaged so that we nurture a new generation of volunteers. We have some young volunteers as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme. And of course, many children engage with the library as part of our playschemes.”

Since 2010 some 600 libraries have closed, mainly as a result of cuts in local authority funding. Nowadays some 500 libraries in the UK are run by volunteers but this was unusual when the campaign to save Denton West End Library started. In some ways Denton West End suffered for being a trendsetter. It had to borrow the money to buy the building from Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council whereas in recent years some local authorities have allowed community organisations to rent or buy libraries for token amounts of money.
Six years on we are pleased that Co-op Loan Fund helped this trendsetter.