As the UK goes back into lockdown, many arts organisations may be feeling like we’ve pressed reset. So, we wanted to take this opportunity to share a spark of hope from Margaret Adjaye, Hub Director at the Upper Norwood Library Hub and one of the recipients of our 2020 Virtual Network Funding. Here, she opens up about how they’ve managed to fundraise and grow their audience even at this difficult time, offering a ray of hope for their community and arts organisations across the country.
Please note, the below blog has been edited for length.
A Spark of Hope for a Library Hub in Lockdown!
In March 2020, the Upper Norwood Library Hub (UNLH) in Crystal Palace closed its doors to the public due to Covid-19. Established in 2016 following the community’s fight to save the library hub from closure, we have worked hard to create a dynamic and vibrant community and performance art space run by the community for everyone.
Rooms in the building are available to hire for private, community, social and business use. We host a range of community activities, from Wriggle and Rhyme sessions and English-Speaking classes, to the Swing Patrol where you can meet new people and dance the night away! We also generate income through live events like theatre, festivals and exhibitions. UNLH also partners with local residents and businesses to provide free or affordable services such as tuition with IMTuition, digital literacy with ClearCommunityWeb and many more.
What a year it has been for everyone! When Covid-19 hit, Lockdown 1 followed and the entire world including our own community stood still. Through long walks, more than I have ever taken in my entire lifetime, I wondered: ‘How are my colleagues, trustees, volunteers our community coping?’ and ‘What are the families, seniors and vulnerable adults who use our space doing?’. They no longer had access to the one place they can sit and stay safe at no cost...
I wondered about the fate of our beloved library. With local authority grants diminishing, the team worked tirelessly to generate at least 41% of our own income, all wiped out in an instant by Covid-19l It looked like it was back to the beginning for us, back to 2016.
When lockdown 1 restrictions started to ease, my thoughts travelled to what we would look like when we re-opened. How can we protect users and keep the community safe? How can we generate income in this brave new world? The arts sector has been brought to its knees by Covid-19, and I worried for the fate of the sector…
Before we closed our doors in March 2020, a trustee and a colleague came up with a fantastic idea to launch a live-steam service to inform, entertain and signpost the community to vital services. The Library Lunch show was born.
Several local volunteers came forward to offer live music, wellbeing initiatives, Soundbath, storytelling, yoga and much more. We were struck by how the community and our talented trustees and volunteers rallied round to help everyone through these dark and strange times…it’s time to say a massive ‘Thank You’ for the collective efforts to make Crystal Palace a safe, strong and warm place for all.
We successfully submitted a bid to the Arts Council’s Emergency Fund for the All Alone, Together project. This was driven by a strong desire to:
- protect and support local artists affected by the pandemic
- find out how Covid-19 had affected our community
- capture the voices of artists and local residents in lockdown to create a Library of Voices
- invest in good quality equipment for the livestream service
- promote better wellbeing and sustain the organisation
With Arts Council support and the support of the National Lottery and its players, we have surveyed 67 local residents to date, capturing stories now being edited and also collated responses available here.
We found that respondents wanted more social networking in the library hub; support for people whose mental health suffered during the lockdown; affordable tuition classes to help children make up for time lost during the lockdown; artistic and wellbeing activities organised and driven by diverse groups including young people; employability initiatives and more.
To date, the All Alone, Together project has helped over 25 local artists. Together, we have created rich and inspiring content enjoyed on Facebook locally and globally.
In the words of one artist:
The mental boost it has provided [to be asked to participate in both Make Them Hear You and Finding Wonderland] cannot be described and it further highlights just how powerful music and theatre are in what is currently a sad and lonely world.
Just before Lockdown 2:
I was reflecting on what we had been through as an organisation and everything we did during and post Lockdown 1.
The All Alone Together project has been a real game changer! It sparked new socially distanced performance arts initiatives in the building after lockdown 1, such as the Children’s West End Theatre Camp which went swimmingly well. These new initiatives brought in some income post lockdown, and some of the classes are still taking place over Zoom.
Another interesting reflection is that as an organisation we are committed to ‘sweating our asset’ to generate income and assure our future. Something we were able to do successfully before Covid-19 struck.
When it comes to grant funding, a great deal of thought goes into the process – before we apply we make sure the fund is aligned to our vision for our community and that it enables us to address identified needs. The funding we applied for during lockdown is helping us through all of this, and for that we are grateful to the Arts Council England, Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy, Power to Change, Local Voluntary Partnership – One Croydon, Neighbourly, Benevity, Local Giving and many others. They continue to inspire and support us in many ways and we want to pass on our heartfelt thanks.
The arts continue to suffer, but in our own small way, we hope the work we are doing now, and will continue to do in the future, can give hope to artists, the sector, and to the community.
So how do I feel now?
Re-energised and thankful for the amazing wealth of artistic talent in our community and the support from our community. We may not immediately get back to where we were pre Covid-19, but what we know is that we will continue to run activities and performances in our space!
This piece is dedicated to artists, community businesses and libraries across the UK, including Community Managed Libraries – this is for the exceptional and fantastic work you do, and continue to do in your communities.