New Cross People's Library

A local project in New Cross Gate is helping local schoolchildren produce a new artwork for their high street following support from the RSA Catalyst seed fund.

What is it?
New Cross People’s Library is a volunteer-run project in south east London which is breathing new life into a high street library closed by the local authority in May this year. A team of 50 local volunteers took possession of the library over the summer, and with the support of community organisation Bold Vision have set about transforming it into a lively community centre.

Books are being issued again with the support of staff from other local libraries, and a second-hand bookshop has opened to raise funds. The library is open four days a week, and already hosts a range of local events, ranging from workshops for aspiring poets and writers to a weekly Baby Bounce session.

Current activities
In order to raise the profile of the new library, local schoolchildren are helping to produce a huge artwork for its entrance on New Cross High Street: a giant bookshelf with individual spines depicting local people’s favourite books (or even ones that they hope one day to write).

In July this year, this work was funded a grant of £2,000 from the RSA’s Catalyst seed fund. RSA Fellow Catherine Shovlin, one of the project's leads commented: “One of the big issues at the beginning of any project is getting funding, and a lot of places you can’t get funding unless you’re strongly established.” Catherine says the aim is to create an artwork that represents and belongs to local people: “to do something powerful that everybody’s involved with; so they can bring their grandma to see the book that they made”. 

Local impact
The project has received coverage in the Guardian and elsewhere, and more importantly has drawn a hugely positive response from local people. Tina, who runs the bookshop, said that people find the space much more welcoming: “Now it’s become so friendly,” she said; “it’s not as dark as it used to be, and the children just love it here.”

What’s next?
The group are organising fundraising events, including a charity auction last Saturday which raised over £2,000 for the project, to help towards establishing a permanent presence in the building. If you would like to volunteer to help the project or you want to find out more, visit the New Cross People's Library website, or email Catherine Shovlin

If you have a project that you’re trying to get off the ground, find out more about how to apply for RSA Catalyst.