New life for Sunderland library hit by council cuts

Silksworth Heritage Group members (l to r) Jack Wilson, Colin Orr, Olive Thompson and Norma Shanks alongside one of the displays in the community library at Beckwith Mews Extra Care.

Silksworth Heritage Group members (l to r) Jack Wilson, Colin Orr, Olive Thompson and Norma Shanks alongside one of the displays in the community library at Beckwith Mews Extra Care.

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COMMUNITY groups are breathing new life into a former city library months after it closed.

Sunderland City Council axed Silksworth Library last year as part of a round of cuts aimed at saving more than £800,000.

But now, the former library is beginning a new life as a venue for community events.

In the run-up to the festive season it hosted a number of events, including reading and craft activities and a Christmas fair.

Last week it held a workshop to capture traditional nursery rhymes so they can be used as a resource for children and their parents and carers across the city.

And yesterday, Silksworth Heritage Group held an open day to encourage local residents to find out more about the history of their area.

Member Norma Shanks is delighted to see the library once again providing a focal point for the area.

She said: “It is very, very important, not just for us but for the whole community.

“It was used by everybody, young and old, when it was a library and that is why it is so important to get it up and running again, even if it is on a volunteer basis.

“It is a lovely, modern building with all the facilities you need.”

The former library in the Beckwith Mews Extra Care development still houses a community book collection and has regular visits from a community engagement librarian.

The re-opening is the work of a partnership made up of the not-for-profit Beckwiths Community Interest Company, which runs the restaurant in the complex; Beckwith Mews operator Housing 21 and the city council’s Library Services.

The partnership has already held meetings with residents of Beckwith Mews and the wider community to consult with and update them on their plans.

A programme of regular outreach activity to work with residents, their families and the wider community is planned, as well as a scheme to develop Beckwith Mews as a pilot pick-up point at which people who have reserved library books on-line can collect them.

Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture, Coun John Kelly, welcomed the plans. He said: “It’s great to see the former library carving out a new role for itself at the heart of the community. We said all along that this was about taking library services into communities and encouraging more people to use them and although this is still in its infancy, it’s really heartening to see a scheme like this getting off the ground.

“It’s also really good to be working with partners like Beckwiths and Housing 21, who are committed to working with us to develop a range of activities to meet the needs of both residents of Beckwith Mews and the local community.”

Beckwiths’ Philip Foster added: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with the council and Housing 21, as this enables us to provide real employment and volunteering opportunities for disabled adults; helping them to achieve greater confidence, self-esteem and live their lives more independently.”

Claire Charlton, Locality Manager for Housing 21 said: “We’re delighted the Silksworth Library is operating so well within Beckwith Mews.

“It was a good move for the library and for the residents at Beckwith Mews, who have easy access to this fantastic facility and the community events that it hosts.”

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