The local library is a treasured aspect of the British way of life. The first Public Library Act was passed in 1850 and prior to the Education Act of 1870 reading rooms, established by benefactors, were often the only significant educative service available for working people. There have been numerous famous patrons of libraries who have contributed to their growth and development. The great Scottish-American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, even sponsored the rebuilding of Wrexham’s Library in 1906. The recent opening of the Sir Alex Ferguson Library in Glasgow, by Sir Alex himself, shows libraries, even at the height of the digital age, are still valued facilities. It is extremely regrettable that severe problems with public funding have led to so many library closures in villages across the country.
However, thanks to a combined effort by both the local high school and energetic volunteers the library in Hope has survived the storm and is now well into its third year as Hope Community Library. In a community which has seen, in recent years, the closure of the Hope Recycling Centre, the loss of HSBC Bank, the loss of an opticians, the closure of at least two public houses and, so far, only limited replacement of axed bus services, the saving of the local library is no small cause for celebration. Local people have risen to the challenge presented by the threat to local services and have taken control of an asset in order save it and shape it to meet local needs: they are part of a new chapter in the developing story of our community.
Since May 2016, Castell Alun High School and the volunteer group of Friends of Hope Community Library have operated a community run library and school library in Hope Library at the Castell Alun High School campus. Volunteers have been extremely valuable in putting additional systems in place and in ensuring that the Library is able to offer more hours of service to the community with an attractive and refreshed stock of books. The School currently provides 9 hours per week for community/school library staffing and volunteers an additional 4 hours per week during term time. The volunteer time extends to 10 hours per week during school holidays.
During the three years of its existence Hope Community Library has benefitted from an initial financial input from Flintshire County Council but has also received donations from Hope Community Council, the Hope, Caergwrle & Abermorddu Carnival Committee, the Hope & Caergwrle Heritage & Conservation Society, Flintshire County Council Community Trust, the Thomas Howell Trust, Redrow Homes and has also benefitted significantly from being a Co-op Good Cause. All of these contributors have recognised the valuable work which the Library is doing within the community. The Library is open to other donations from those who may wish to help to sustain its activities.
The remarkable and distinguishing aspect of Hope Community Library is the way in which it has developed to act as a hub within the community in offering a wide range of events and services. The mushroom of activities far exceeds the original community offer of the library and the initial vision as to how the facility would develop. It is a tribute to the volunteers, especially members of an events sub-group, who have put in a tremendous amount of effort in developing this facility.
The regular activities of the Library are advertised elsewhere in this magazine. As well as being a veritable Library which provides a regularly refreshed stock of books for readers, Hope Community Library has become a de facto Well-Being Hub within the community in response to local demand and volunteer input. However the Library currently suffers from lack of adequate space to fulfil the demand for activities and to offer a full range of services to the members of the community.
To date Hope Community Library has hosted numerous popular meet the author events which have given local people the opportunity to listen and learn from the stories of those who taken the plunge and allowed their talents to flourish. It is worth noting that several of these speakers have been local writers and authors. These include Fiona Holland, Patricia Burton, and Pete Evans. It seems there is something in the air in this corner of North East Wales that gives rise to literary creativity. Fiona Holland herself holds a Creative Writing Class in the Library and there are also lively and informed discussions at Any Book Club which is another regular activity hosted at the Library.
Volunteers are the backbone of the Friends of Hope Community Library and they have put in many hours of hard work to add value to community life. It is they who have run an immensely popular annual Summer Reading Challenge, during the holiday period, to encourage reading and the development of literacy skills in young people. The School itself makes significant use of the facility both as a School Library but also as a centre for activities aimed at literacy enrichment. The ability to understand and manipulate the symbols of the language is crucial to so much learning.
Weekends and holiday periods have seen the Library offering a diverse range of acuities, many of which have been aimed at the engagement of young people. There are times when the Library has been an absolute hive of activity with young people actively immersed in craft activities, storytime sessions, watching screened films, being enthralled by demonstrations of magic or taking part in art and woodcraft sessions. Some have even been involved themselves in giving costumed performances of fictional characters. There are always seasonal activities for young people at Easter, Christmas and Halloween and the Library seizes the opportunity to make celebration of its own birthday a community event. It says a great deal when a member of the community (Fran Plevin) donates an amazing and professionally decorated birthday cake for a venture that has been received so well by the community. Occasions like World Book Day or special events, like the commemoration of the centenary of end of World War One have provided further opportunities for the community and volunteers to involve the Library.
The Library has reached out to the community and been embraced by the community. Sessions aimed at community health and well-being have included a ‘New Year, New You’, training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and Mindfulness sessions, all delivered by suitably qualified practitioners. Internet access is available in the library and with so many services going on-line, not least access to Universal Credit, this has provided a lifeline for some members of the community. Now that Transport for Wales have sorted out the technical problems, and downloaded existing bus pass photographs, it is also possible to complete on-line applications for the new bus pass at the Library before 31st December. (Those doing so will need their old bus pass and NI numbers.) It was also pleasing to see a hearty community response to the Library’s hosting of a McMillan’s Coffee Morning to raise funds for cancer support. Although the Library is not bookable for activities as such, community groups who members are Library volunteers have been able to arrange planning meetings at the Library.
The Library currently provides a base for the meetings of the Hope, Caergwrle and Abermorddu Carnival Committee and Homegrown@Park in the Past (Allotment Group).
The Library provides host to a Local Heritage Archive which contains records which were used by the authors of A History of Hope and Caergwrle (Rhona Phoenix and Alison Matthews), Resurrection River (Pete Evans) and A Ramble Around the Historic Village of Caergwrle (Dave Healey) and has a dedicated notice-board for heritage materials. It is an ambition of the volunteers to develop this aspect in conjunction with resources on family history so that local people can research their families and family activities within the wider context of the locality community.
The Library has also played a key role in the launch of several initiatives which have made difference within the community itself. It was the base for a Bee-Friendly initiative which saw young people venture out to create the wildflower beds on the Willow Playing Field, an activity which earned the recognition of the first Bee Friendly Award in Flintshire. Each year the Community Clean-up is launched from the Library. The activity is aimed around Halloween time and was initially launched with the help of an Operation Bang grant and involvement by the PCSO and Arson Reduction Team. This not only involves local volunteers in litter picking but also clears the cut arisings from the flower beds as part of a regular maintenance commitment. This activity has also become part of the preparation for Remembrance because it ensured that Caergwrle’s cenotaph is cleared on the previous years’ wreaths. The Library was pleased to host the launch of a local ‘Give Nature a Home’ campaign last spring. This was followed up by a next-box building session within the Library and activities within the community which included pulling of invasive Himalayan Balsam. There has been a growing awareness of wildlife within the community and it was interesting to note that local Library users recently rescued a very small hedgehog that was found just outside the Library during half term. It would not have survived the winter without help and was taken to Hedgehog Help in Prestatyn. North Wales Wildlife Trust is now on-board with plans to hit the Himalayan Balsam problem locally and will be holding an awareness-raising session at the Library on 29th February. There will be a shelter in the car park for activities for children and an invasive species trail.
The vision for the future is for Hope Community Library to continue to develop both as a Library and much-needed Well-Being Hub for School and Community use. Further development of the Library will require capital funding for a significant project involving a remodelling of the current building in order to overcome constraints and issues of disability and toilet accessibility. At the moment all eyes are on the Welsh Government to see if it offers a funding stream that can be tapped into to allow for further development of the facility – unless, of course, another Andrew Carnegie comes along!
To enquire about volunteering at Hope Community Library please contact firstname.lastname@example.org/ or the author of this article. All volunteers can play a part in meetings of the Friends of Hope Community Library and help shape the future direction of the Library during an exciting period of its development.
To become a member of Hope Community Library simply pop along during opening hours (advertised elsewhere in this magazine) and enquire.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy of Flintshire County Council. Readers are welcome to contact the author with any news or views on the local heritage at DHealey204@aol.com or by telephoning 01978 761 523.