• Mark Sandbach

Volunteers praised for library work

More than a thousand volunteers from all walks of life are being praised for their unique contribution to Staffordshire’s library network. Community groups, a health trust, and the first Rotarians group in the UK, plus many individual volunteers, are contributing the annual equivalent of around £1.2 million of their time to Staffordshire County Council’s library service. Now 27 of the county’s 43 libraries are managed and run on a day-to-day basis by community managers. Victoria Wilson, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Communities and Culture, said: “It’s five years since the first of Staffordshire’s libraries became community managed and since then they have evolved to meet local demand in their communities, as well as delivering the core library service. “Our community managed libraries keep evolving and now deliver, or soon will, everything from electric car hire and charging points, zero carbon initiatives and telephone ‘buddy’ services for the isolated, to ‘knit and natter’ groups, Baby Bounce and Rhyme sessions and take part in the Places of Welcome scheme.” She added: “While the pandemic affected the way libraries operate, it didn’t affect volunteers’ sense of community and there are stories from Blythe Bridge to Heath Hayes of people helping others during the lockdowns with everything from book deliveries to organising emergency food supplies. “So many people have done a fantastic job without fanfare at the heart of their communities and I’m proud to be associated with them.” In the last year before the pandemic struck 1,357 people volunteered over a 12 month period. And as well as making a difference in their communities, some are using the experience on their CV as a springboard to finding a paying job, with 25 moving into paid employment and six into further learning and education. Staffordshire has one of the largest chapters of community managed libraries in the country. The arrangement sees the management and day-to-day running of the library taken over by the community group, which has access to the library service’s stock and IT network, while the authority remains responsible for agreed utility and maintenance costs. Successful management groups include the Midlands Partnership NHS Trust, a Business Enterprise Group, many bodies formed from local communities including in Blythe Bridge, Shenstone and Penkridge, plus the congregation at the Rising Brook Baptist Church. One group, the Werrington Community Volunteer Group, has received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the equivalent of the MBE for voluntary bodies. And another, the Rotary Club of Rugeley, attracted worldwide interest from fellow Rotarians after becoming the first club in the UK to take on library management – at Brereton. And inspired by their colleagues the Rotary Club of Eccleshall quickly followed suit with their local library. Speaking during National Volunteer Week, Victoria Wilson added: “This move towards putting smaller libraries in the hands of the communities to take decisions at a local level has been a great success and none of this would happen without the commitment of the volunteers. “If anyone else would like to contribute this way- even if just for two hours a week – at any of our libraries they can emailvolunteerinyourlibrary@staffordshire.gov.uk .”




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