Group of people of mixed ages looking at digital screen

Helping communities through library activity in the North

Posted on 21 April 2017

As the national development agency for libraries in England, Arts Council England has invested over £15 million in supporting libraries since 2012.

And from 2018 we will be integrating libraries into our National Portfolio so we can lead an integrated approach across arts, museums and libraries to achieving great art and culture for everyone. We will announce the National Portfolio for 2018-22 on 27 June 2017.

We recently announced, in conjunction with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, that library services from 30 local authorities across the country will receive a total of £3.9 million from the Libraries Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund. This funding will support activity in England’s public libraries which benefits disadvantaged people and places.

The power of the library to change lives is well known, and the lifeline offered is never forgotten. 

Brian Ashley, Director Libraries, Arts Council England

The applications we received showed us how library services are keen to develop new ways to address the difficulties experienced in their local areas such as literacy, social isolation, a lack of both access to new technology and the opportunity to learn new skills. By getting the local communities involved, libraries are building on the enduring role of libraries as places where people can learn and develop.

Brian Ashley, Director Libraries, Arts Council England commented, “The power of the library to change lives is well known, and the lifeline offered is never forgotten. This is what libraries and librarians do day in, day out. Working with books, knowledge and information in safe trusted spaces they offer a gateway to opportunity for those in need of a second chance or a fresh start, with the impact spreading out to their friends and families. We will all gain from the return on this investment in our libraries in years to come. But individuals facing an uncertain world need it now - whether as a professional woman suddenly made redundant, the recently divorced small businessman, and those without basic literacy or digital skills, or facing a difficult health diagnosis.”

Nine libraries services in the North are being funded with a total of £1,045,040 through the Libraries Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund: Barnsley Libraries, Bradford Libraries, Hull Culture and Leisure Ltd, Liverpool City Council Manchester City Council, Middlesbrough Libraries, Sefton Libraries and Information Service, Stockton-on-Tees Libraries and the Libraries Service Unit in Tameside.


Liverpool Library on National Libraries Day 2016 © Graham Lucas Commons

While all the projects have social inclusion at the centre, they focus on increasing different skills. Four of the projects are primarily aimed at developing digital capabilities and creativity:

£52,910 will support Barnsley Libraries to provide mobile access to technology for a targeted group of local residents at high risk of digital and social exclusion. They will do this through the creation of ‘Digital Makerspace Boxes’ - portable multi-media kits containing IT equipment to be used in the community. The boxes will be used to deliver digital skills sessions for people in sheltered accommodation, a job club in a community centre, and IT access and skills support for community groups and small businesses – all of which will help build a more digitally confident community.

Wendy Lowder, Executive Director for Communities at Barnsley Council, said: “More people than ever now enjoy the benefits of using the internet. Yet there are still many across Barnsley who have never been online, or not used the internet very much at all. Digital skills are increasingly important in every aspect of our lives, from job opportunities, education and entertainment so it's really important for people to have the basic skills that are needed to access the internet. The funding from Arts Council England is a fantastic opportunity for our libraries to offer training and equipment in the heart of our communities; helping residents to get familiar with modern technology and start enjoying the advantages of life online.”

Hull’s 12 month reign as 2017 City of Culture is off to a great start with record breaking audiences and huge increases in the number of visitors coming to the city. Building on this enthusiasm, with funding of £243,783, Hull Culture and Leisure will create a space within the Central Library where anyone can explore their creativity in the arts, science and technology. This space (called a ‘Makerspace’) will have state-of-the-art digital and electronic equipment, skilled staff providing support, and workshops offering the space to make, think, collaborate, explore and exhibit. To make sure all residents have the opportunity to take part, pop-up ‘Makerspaces’ will be happening across the city.

Manchester Central Library on National Libraries Day 2016 © Graham Lucas Common

At Middlesbrough Libraries investment of £91,410 will support a digital media project called My Town: My Future involving 120 local people from disadvantaged backgrounds and using and building on a rich collection of local historic images. Participants will learn practical skills to help them to create an online resource reflecting their experience of living in 21st century Middlesbrough. They will also produce images and stories which reflect the often overlooked social history of their communities and the personal contributions they have made to them.

Councillor Lewis Young, Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport at Middlesbrough Council said: "We are always looking at ways to showcase Middlesbrough's rich heritage, and this grant provides us with the opportunity to do that. What this fund also does however is increase the accessibility of our shared history, and offer opportunities to people, especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, for training and education. Social regeneration is at the heart of everything we do at Middlesbrough Council, and the My Town, My Future project feeds into this ethos."

In Stockton-on-Tees, £97,100 will support the creation of two Innovation Stations in Stockton Central and Thornaby Central Libraries. Using facilities and resources not currently available, local people will be able to develop their digital skills using 3D technology, learn about coding and game design, and take part in immersive storytelling.

Councillor Norma Wilburn, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Arts, Leisure and Culture, said: “We’re very proud of our libraries in Stockton-on-Tees and in recent years we have invested in libraries buildings to ensure they provide bright, modern and attractive public spaces for our residents to enjoy. Thanks to this funding from Arts Council England we can look forward to adding a new dimension to our central libraries in Stockton and Thornaby in the shape of Innovation Stations equipped with new and exciting technology from 3D printers to projectors that will bring stories and learning to life.”

Young person reading at Newcastle Library © Steve Brock

Four projects focus on increasing creative learning opportunities and literacy:

With an award of £74,692, Bradford Library Service will develop an innovative and creative programme which has the potential to be adopted more widely. It will engage children and adults with special educational needs and disabilities in 'immersive' approaches to literature. In partnership with specialists including Purple Patch Arts 12 ‘immersive literature kits’ - sensory and immersive adaptations of well-known pieces of literature which can be used for one-to-one reading or as group activities – will be created. Key staff and volunteers will be trained in how to use the kits and creative workshops will also be delivered.

At Liverpool Libraries, £75,500 will fund the 'Maker Difference' Project providing creative learning opportunities for children and young people aged 8-18 from four disadvantaged communities. The project will help these young people to develop their creative and digital skills, covering topics such as online information literacy, media literacy, and digital well-being and identity. 'Maker Difference' will also encourage participation from disabled young people via on-site clubs, weekly workshops, and participation in cultural events and creative digital festivals.

With an award of £99,000, Sefton Libraries will create a ‘human library’ where people can ‘gift’ their talents and experiences to someone in need. The project is aimed at adults in Bootle who are socially isolated or living with poor mental health. A series of creative programmes will uncover local talents and, in turn, this will build a sustainable bank of volunteers who can pass their 'gifts' on. Gifts might range from hosting a community meal to one-to-one sessions with people living with mental health conditions. Our investment will also allow training for volunteers and staff in social prescribing techniques including Making Every Contact Count.

I am proud to see that our library service here in Sefton continue to be ambitious at a time of significant challenge by looking at innovative ways to tackle social isolation for our residents. 

Cllr. Trish Hardy, Cabinet Member for Communities and Housing at Sefton Council

In Tameside an award of £60,660 will help fund a literacy project in four of Tameside’s public libraries. In partnership with Stone Soup, a leading creative industries organisation in Bolton, the library service will work with The Lowry in Salford and Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra. Through creative workshops and experiences, families from disadvantaged areas will be supported to embrace reading, develop literacy skills and create a series of published books for family audiences. Once the books are published and printed, an accompanying resource pack will support creative activities that can be led both by library staff and by the families themselves.

Liverpool Library on National Libraries Day 2016 © Graham Lucas Commons

The final project has entrepreneurship at its heart - £249,985 will go towards Big Ideas Generators, a project supporting innovation and enterprise across 10 Greater Manchester library authorities. It will deliver personalised one-to-one business information surgeries, 'How to' sessions, workshops and informal networking opportunities, as well as specialist training in skills such as 3D printing. Focusing on reaching women and BAME audiences, participants will gain vital information and digital support to help them navigate their entrepreneurial journey.

Sir Richard Leese, Greater Manchester Combined Authority lead member for economic strategy and leader of Manchester City Council, said: "Greater Manchester is a hive of innovation and entrepreneurialism and our libraries have a vital role to play in helping nurture some of the great ideas that are out there. This project will help them become a reality and equip the region's budding business people with the skills to prosper."