Today, the ribbon was cut by the Deputy Mayor, Frank Harwood, at the formal opening of the first Community Managed Library, in Sinfin.
The deal was formally signed by Derby City Council, and Direct Help and Advice (DHA), back in March 2018 for DHA to run all of the 10 libraries and the plan is that they will all be handed over by December 2018.
I first met Paul Naylor, CEO of DHA in mid-2015. I was working on an article about the work that they do for people with housing related problems, and their pivotal role in providing advice and legal support in avoiding homelessness. Direct Help and Advice (DHA): A lifeline for the potentially homeless DHA were also delivering training and employment advice in their Ilkeston branch. Paul, subsequently, took up the additional role as CEO of Citizen’s Advice Bureau in Derby following the loss of substantial grant funding from the Council.
Around October of last year, I attended the first of the public meetings on the, then, new Library strategy; I was surprised to bump into Paul Naylor in the foyer of the Guildhall – he was also attending the presentation. I was curious about why he wanted to get involved as this seemed to be quite remote from what I’d understood his core focus was. On reflection it was very consistent with his basic ethos of working and delivering for the community. He felt that, unless someone stepped in, and proposed something radical then there was a real risk that libraries would close.
Put simply, that was, and is, his position.
Since that time, the vision has developed into a close working partnership with Community Action Derby, and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau ( now under the leadership of David Symcox of the South Derbyshire Citizen’s Advice Bureau). Links are being developed with other charities and agencies in the City with a view to wider drop-in / outreach services being available across these 10 libraries. The vision is that they evolve into more community hubs, centred around the library service. Citizen’s Advice Bureau has made the Sinfin library their base, and private rooms have been constructed to allow this to take place alongside the book lending service.
Sinfin Library has its own Steering group from within the community who will help give direction on the development of the library, and other services.
A huge amount of effort has been put in by Paul, his partners, the staff within their respective teams, and there was clearly a lot of optimism, today, from those who have some part to play in making this novel concept work. It is now down to everyone in the Community and the Officers to make this a totally sustainable Community Managed Library.
Paul’s vision and drive, as well as that of his partners, should be seen purely for what it is – delivering good, quality services for the community; it’s that simple.
There are many aspects of the wider strategy, over which DHA have no control and it is largely those areas which are leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of many people – the principal one being the uncertainty and potential redundancy of the 64 paid staff – this is with the Officers in the Council.
Many people will have learnt a lot from the Sinfin Library exercise and there are certainly many issues that need resolving very quickly. The time is right, to reflect, and change the way that the strategy is being implemented, so the vision becomes a positive experience for everyone involved and that those 64 people who have dedicated many years of their lives in delivering a quality library service are not forgotten. Their welfare should be front, and centre, in the strategy.
The opportunity exists for the new Council leadership to ensure that these “course corrections” are made, promptly, and positively.