Features: Former library turning into community hub

Alison Maney, April 25, 2016

A small team of neighbourhood volunteers is planning to lease the now-closed Eastville library from the council and turn it into a volunteer-run community space. 

Eastville Library was the only library closed in Bristol due to new proposals for council spending.

The South Lockleaze & Purdown Neighbourhood Group expect to have keys in hand by May 1 and have been crowdfunding to take care of basic necessities, such as insurance and an accessible public toilet.

They’re hoping to raise up to £15,000. After that, though, the facilities, upkeep and renovations will all be run by the community.

Emily explains the plans for the new community space.

“We’re hoping that it will be run 100 per cent by volunteers,” says Emily Shimell. “The aim is for it to be for the community, by the community.”

It seems like a tall order, having everything from PR to gardening run by volunteers, but Emily, 28, and David Walwin, 52, are firm believers in the power of the Eastville and larger Bristol community.

Volunteers have already begun to come together to support what will be called the Old Library, Eastville, which Emily and David say will eventually contain a coffee shop, a separate room for hire, a book swap, a children’s play area, public computers and a community garden.

Emily talks a mile a minute about the location’s potential. The professional audio systems engineer is unapologetically passionate and an unstoppable force behind this project. Every spot in and around the library prompts her to list its many possibilities, from the slightly dingy interiors to the small kitchen to the large green space at the back and side of the building.

“We’re hoping we can be open as much as possible so we can get people coming down and running activities. People can run workshops, yoga classes, quizzes, or come to set up unusual table top sales or mini golf sessions,” she says. “We want to have as many free activities as possible.

“In the green space, I’m hoping we can create some raised beds and some growing space where we can eat together, share our food and hopefully bring it inside to our cafe.” She points out the fruit trees growing behind the property. “I think maybe we can make some Purdown jams and have some jam making sessions.”

And after all that, David says: “We want it to be self-sustainable.” In other words, through hire space rentals and the café, the Old Library, Eastville should pay for itself. 

A wild flower patch and a sign announcing the soon-to-be community space. The green space towards the back of the building will be converted into a natural children’s play area.

Again, it seems like a lot to ask from a volunteer-run business. But if you build it, they will come. In addition to raising £1,500 during the crowdfunder’s first week, scores of volunteers have already begun assisting the burgeoning Old Library. 

Locals have already gathered to plant wildflowers in the former library’s front garden. Retired accountants and bookkeepers offered to manage the community space’s accounts. Teachers and instructors plan to hold French and yoga classes in the hire space and a local is planning to set up a jigsaw puzzle exchange alongside the book exchange.

Journalists have offered to write blog posts, web designers have created the website and chefs have volunteered to cook in the kitchen.

“We’ve been collecting together people over time, handing out leaflets, knocking on doors, trying to get more and more people involved in helping us,” says Emily. “We’re building a bit of a database of what people want and also what people can offer, what skills they’ve got.”

Emily and David believe this space will be vital for the Lockleaze community.

“There are about a thousand houses around this area and the library is their only community facility,” says Emily. “It’s the one place you can walk to, the one place where you can get digital access, the one place where people can meet and share with their neighbours.”

Emily and David say they hope the project will attract even more volunteers after the Old Library opens. 

Emily is positive about the future: “We’re losing the library, but hopefully we can make this something better.”

Emily and David outside the Old Library, Eastville.


Interested in helping out? Donate to the crowdfunding page for the Old Library, Eastville, or contact Emily and David at southlockleaze@gmail.com to volunteer.


Read more: New lease of life for Eastville Library


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