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Libraries and Grants for the arts – Cityread London

  • Date: 4 September 2012
  • Artform: Libraries
  • Area: National
young black man gives book to older man Book-giving at the launch of Cityread at St Pancras station, Photo: Julian Creff

Over the coming year we will be publishing a series of case studies that look at Lottery-funded Grants for the arts libraries services projects.

Cityread London, led by Stellar Libraries, a training, consultancy and campaigning agency for UK public libraries, and involving 33 library services across the city, is a campaign to bring reading to life for audiences throughout the capital. The project was awarded £86,000 Grants for the arts funding in February 2012.


Its aim has been to promote reading for pleasure and build a sense of community, bringing readers of all ages and backgrounds together over a single book.

The chosen book for was Oliver Twist, to celebrate Dickens 2012, the Dickens' bicentenary celebrations, and Stellar Libraries worked in partnership with Dickens 2012 and Penguin Books to create the project.

The programme combined high-profile events at iconic venues across London with a local programme of over 600 events in the capital's libraries.

About the project format

Joint organisers Andy Ryan, Director of Stellar Libraries and Mike Clarke, Head of Libraries and Registration Services at London Borough of Camden worked on similar projects together at London Libraries before setting up Stellar Libraries.

Andy Ryan commented:

'We'd never tackled a city-wide read around a single book. Such campaigns aren't new - both Brighton and Dublin have been running programmes for around seven years, and the organisers of both were kind enough to share their experiences and advice with me.

'The format required quite a lot of tweaking - and working with 33 local authorities meant that the sheer scale of Cityread London dictated programming and content to some extent.'

The Grants for the arts application process

Andy Ryan, applied for Grants for the arts funding after discussing the project with a Relationship Manager at Arts Council England.

Although she found the application process thorough and time-consuming, Andy also found it instructive.

'It made me think through lots of aspects of the campaign I'd not considered before. It made me reconsider the sort of programme we could deliver - without it I would never have thought about including hip hop and graphic novel workshops, or the young writer's residency. All of which really enabled us to bring Dickens to new and diverse audiences.'

What was the most challenging part of the Grants for the Arts application process?

'For me, [it was] the time it took to pull all the detail together from our 30 plus partner organisations.

'Wherever possible, I asked for partners to write a couple of paragraphs about what they were contributing to the campaign, and wove them into the body of the application.'

Why did the assessors like the project?

Our team of Grants for the arts assessors were impressed with the wide scope of the Cityread's artistic offer, including large-scale reading groups, comic book workshops, author events, films, theatre shows, hip-hop performances and workshops, family events, writers' residencies and a significant strand of digital activity.

What was the most useful lesson learned from the application process?

'I wish I'd contacted the Arts Council a lot earlier on in the planning process. It didn't occur to me that Cityread would be eligible for funding, and as such, I think I missed out on a lot of help and support along the way.

'Once I'd been encouraged to submit an application, I was offered lots of support. For future projects, I'll be involving the Arts Council much earlier on in the creative process.

'Also, if at all possible, do not start a Grants for the arts application when you are eight and a half months pregnant. It takes longer than you think!'

Key stats

  • total funding awarded - £86,000
  • total project cost - £248,000
  • 33 library services across London took part
  • more than 600 associated events in London's libraries
  • 1,000 copies of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens given away
  • more than 10 partner organisations supported the project 

Get inspired and start your own application

Funded by the National Lottery, Grants for the arts are for activities carried out over a set period and which engage people in England in arts activities, and help artists and arts organisations in England carry out their work.

The £6 million Grants for the arts Libraries fund has been established to support public library-led projects that stimulate partnerships between libraries and artists and arts organisations, and which encourage communities to participate actively in artistic and cultural activities.

Applications can be for between £1,000 and £100,000 and can cover activities lasting up to three years, In special circumstances we can assess applications for grants over £100,000 for more major projects.

Learn more about our £6 million Grants for the arts - Libraries fund.