New Cross People's Library

Posted: 21 Nov 2011

"Our New Cross Bookshelves" is a local project working with schoolchildren and adults in the New Cross Gate area in South East London to produce a new participatory artwork for a High Street frontage following support from the RSA Catalyst seed fund.

What is it?
The artwork will revitalise the front of the former New Cross Public Library. The library was closed by the local authority in May this year.  It reopened in August as a lively book and learning centre run entirely by a team of over 60 volunteers with the support of local community charity Bold Vision.

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.

Our New Cross Bookshelves needs 2-300 volunteers to get involved to fill the "shelves" so if you would like to help the project or 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.