When Fallowfield Library was threatened with closure due to budget cuts, the local community led by the Friends of Fallowfield group, mobilised and, with the help of Manchester City Council and the place-making organisation One Manchester, formed a Charitable Incorporated Organisation to take over the lease and begin a new chapter.
The result is The Place at Platt Lane; a modern, sustainable community library and resource centre which shows how, with a little support, communities can protect and in this case enhance, a valued community asset.
The trustees, mainly local community members who are passionate about Fallowfield, have worked tirelessly to find out what people need and want from The Place at Platt Lane and find ways to deliver this by working with dedicated volunteers, Manchester City Council’s Libraries service and a growing list of community groups and partner organisations.
To date, 80 volunteers have worked with One Manchester and the council to transform Fallowfield Library into The Place at Platt Lane, making it possible for a library service to be on offer 18 hours a week, as well as delivering a wide range of activities, services, educational courses and events to be enjoyed by people of all ages throughout the week.
Since April 2015, it is estimated that The Place at Platt Lane has generated almost £1.5 million worth of social value to the community.
This figure accounts for the thousands of hours contributed by volunteers and the wide range of projects which the library supports including: English classes; an older people’s group to reduce social isolation; IT groups to improve digital skills; faith groups; knitting groups; a community choir; a money advice service; various clubs for children and young people; and a range of courses ranging from photography to family history to courses supporting women running their own businesses.
Volunteer Lil Luckham, a founding member of the Friends of Fallowfield and a trustee of the library, said: “I can’t put it into words what stands out about this library – which I guess is ironic – but in all seriousness, there is a feeling I have here and it’s evolving into something very special. As an example, we sell books on a Saturday morning and offer tea and cake. It’s only a small gesture but it has blossomed into something very important. With no original grand intention, it has become a regular social isolation café; people have told other people in the area and now we have visitors who wouldn’t normally see anybody else all week. They’re offering each other advice and asking us to help them with phoning people or to use the internet, for day-to-day issues.
“Essentially the library is all about bringing people together; different ages, cultures, genders, and creeds. How do you put something like that into words; something that you might take away and show to people? It’s incredible.”
Councillor Luthfur Rahman, Executive Member for Culture and Leisure at Manchester City Council, said: “The Friends of Fallowfield Library have shown great dedication in developing a sustainable, community-led plan for library services to be delivered from the Place at Platt Lane. We will continue to work with the Friends group and One Manchester, providing the staff support, computers and books needed to keep library provision at the core of this vital local hub.”
Dave Power, Group Chief Executive of One Manchester, said: “The Place at Platt Lane is a fantastic example of how, by working together with communities and other partners, we can find innovative ways to deliver the services our communities need.
“It has been a privilege to not only support the people of Fallowfield in saving their local library but to assist them in widening its services and overall offer, all of which is thanks to the sheer drive and determination of the Friends of Fallowfield. We saw their passion from the very beginning and will continue to do all we can to support the team in ensuring a successful future for the library and the community.”
For more information, please contact Mark Coleman at Social Communications. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0161 660 9889 / 07496 220 956.
About One Manchester
One Manchester owns and manages 12,500 homes in central, south and east Manchester.
We make a difference to people and places by creating opportunities, transforming communities and changing lives.
As an organisation that values an imaginative approach, we are constantly seeking new and innovative ways of investing, creating partnerships and bringing people together to make a long lasting, positive impact on our communities. We call this social innovation.
These are exciting times for the city of Manchester and the wider region. We have ambitious plans to build on the success of Manchester, to ensure growth continues in the housing, services and partnerships that we provide.
In developing new homes and business opportunities, we aim to offer more choice, quality and value to our existing and new customers alike.
For more information: www.onemanchester.co.uk
About The Place at Platt Lane
Over the past three and a half years, more than 80 volunteers have contributed to The Place at Platt Lane.
The Social Value estimate comes from a report by HACT, an organisation which helps housing providers build stronger neighbourhoods and resilient communities.
For more information: www.hact.org.uk
Meet Cath and Lil
In the South Manchester suburb of Fallowfield, long term residents Cath Clarke and Lil Luckham have been instrumental in saving the town’s local library from the threat of imminent closure. As trustees of the library and founding members of the Friends of Fallowfield, a community organisation initially established to bring people together to save the library from closing, they have each put in more than 5,000 hours of their personal time, ensuring the library continues to deliver its vital service for thousands of residents living nearby.
From my first visit as a child back in 1965, this library opened my world up. I came from a very overcrowded home where there were no books so if you wanted to do your homework, you went to your local library. I remember the very first thing I came to this library for: my teacher had said you need to go home and start a project about Tutankhamun. I remember asking my mother about it and she said, ‘who’s he; who’s that?’ so I came to the library and I was sent me to the children’s section. The librarian bought me this huge encyclopaedia and from that moment onwards it just changed my outlook on everything. It really did open my entire world.
When the proposed closure came about, my anger, it was palpable. People will tell you I was the very angry one in the beginning. I read a great article by Janet Street Porter a couple of years ago. She said the saviours of society would be grumpy old women, so I’m more than happy to be classed as that if this building continues to thrive and grow and keep contributing.
When I came back into this library, nostalgia kicked in. I used to come here as a child and a young teenager. I moved back to Fallowfield five and a half years ago. I started to see people again that I’d known from 40 odd years prior. Those friendships had built up. I went into a local church coffee morning with a neighbour a few years ago and I was handed a small flier that said, ‘Fallowfield Library is to close’. It advertised a public consultation so we turned up to see what was going on, not realising the scope of the project we were about to embark upon! In the early days of our campaign, we didn’t completely know where to start to be honest.
There was a big question around where we were going and what was needed, or what was expected of us, but we did everything we could. We initially had dialect with the council and then with a local housing association – now One Manchester. Eventually, we developed such a good relationship with the council that they said the way we had progressed in saving the library would help them take a fresh approach in terms of how they look at other public buildings. We’ve changed the way they work on such projects as a council and that means an awful lot to all of us. We just do whatever’s needed, whether it’s opening, closing, setting up for an event; it’s become a way of life.
The Place at Platt Lane is a lovely building with lots of history and has been a part of the community since the 1930s. We didn’t want this to be another supermarket or something that was simply there for commercial reasons. We felt passionate that it had to be kept open. We’re very strong on trying to tackle community isolation and mental health issues. The NHS have an office upstairs and we work with them and other organisations on various partnerships. We have a credit union that runs on Thursday’s and other things like this which mean the library is about much more than just giving out books.
People constantly praise us. They say this library wouldn’t be here without our efforts but we don’t feel like that. We know we’ve played a part and we know that through default we’ve taken leadership on it. But we couldn’t have done this on our own. There are lots of people involved from residents to council members and those simply visiting or attending courses; we’ve always had support behind the scenes. There are hundreds of people behind us, supporting us in doing what we’ve needed to do.