Volunteers explain exciting plans as Wallasey library set to reopen

Volunteers are hoping to bring a “buzz” back to their town as a library closed for two years is set to reopen with a new cafe.

Wallasey Village Library situated off St George’s Road in Wallasey was closed in October 2022 as part of sweeping cuts to balance Wirral Council’s budget that year. This saw the library as well as eight others closed alongside two golf courses and a leisure centre.

Following the decision to close it, neighbours, volunteers, a nearby primary school, a café, and Wallasey councillor Ian Lewis came together to form a new charity that would take the building over and run it for at least the next 25 years.

Over two years after the decision was made to close it in February 2022, they have now got the keys and are clearing out the building.

Volunteers are now clearing out the library which has been closed for nearly two years. Credit: Ed Barnes

The Wallasey Village Library and Community Centre will look to save and reuse as much as possible as they convert one-third of it into the library space, another room into a community space, while a third room will become a dog-friendly café. The café will be run by Baked as a branch of their current family-run café and bistro at Larton Livery in Frankby with high-speed Wi-Fi.

It’s hoped money from grants as well as revenue from the café will help keep the library open for future generations, comparing it to shops like Waterstones that often have cafés alongside books.

It’s hoped to have the building open seven days a week and in the long run, host events and film screenings.

Ian McGinn from Baked said it was about creating a space for people to meet and encourage young people to read, adding, “You can get them together watching a movie and building up that community support, to act as a hub for everyone who wants to use it.

“I think all communities have been affected by libraries closing. When the library was open, it was only open 18 hours a week. Now it will be seven days a week from morning until the evening.”

He said they hoped to open the café as soon as possible but expects it to be around June or July selling homemade cakes, sandwiches, good coffee, and other food. In the summer and during nice weather, they will look to put tables and chairs outside on the grass that surrounds the library.

Ray Lyons, one of the trustees for the charitable trust taking over the library. Credit: Ed Barnes

Ray Lyons’s family used the library for over 40 years but is now one of the trustees of the new charity. He said, “It’s up to the community to ask what they want in the space and if it’s not there, then ask for it. You will see the library open and the community hub open and the café open and then the rest is up to the people and hopefully open seven days a week. The scope is endless.”

Mr Lyons said the café would help bring in young people, adding, “They need to be able to have an area that they can go to. My children used to come in here and read books and all of that was gone. It’s so important to learn to read books.

“If you go to any venue there will always be a café attached to it. If you go to the Williamson, they have a café of the Tate, they have a café. It will bring people in and it’s a wonderful building too.”

Barbara Carrington said they helped set up the library’s Friends group to save it in 2015. They still kept meeting up three times a week despite the library being closed but are now clearing out the building’s cupboards for the first time in two years.

Pointing to the Storyhouse in Chester, she said, “That is what I would love to have, to have that buzz about it.” She said, “There’s nothing around here that is a community centre. There’s nothing for a community space,” adding, “I just hope that it becomes a vibrant place.”

Jacqui Greenall is another member of the Friends. She said, “It’s sad but it’s also exciting because we can make it better. If libraries are going to survive they have to make it work in the 20th century. My analogy is it’s like being a restaurant that hasn’t changed its menu. You have got to change your menu if you are going to survive.”

When Wirral Council voted to close the nine libraries, several community groups across Wirral came forward to take them over but the process has been subject to delays.

Cllr Helen Cameron, who chairs the committee that oversaw the policy criticised what she described as “a torturous process,” adding, “It would be really hard for me to have faith and to encourage any groups to come forward.”

Wallasey Conservative councillor Ian Lewis felt delays were primarily due to the council, adding, “I don’t think the council was geared up to see so many asset transfers happen at once. The team was stretched doing that.

“Then there was the legal side of things in agreeing the terms of the lease. From our point of view, we also had to get the charity up and running and I do not think we could have done that without St George’s School and the Wallasey Village Friends.”

He said they had secured £99,000 of funding so far from Wirral Council as part of the transfer to get set up, adding, “We had to make a decision early on. Did we sit back? The council voted to close a number of facilities but we, as local councillors, recognised it was wanted by the community even if the council couldn’t keep it running.

“A lot of the smaller libraries had been under the threat of closure for years. This axe had been hanging over the library every year so by taking it out of council control, we have taken away that threat now.”

Pointing to the 25 year lease, he said, “That gives us the stability to say to the local community we will be here for 25 years and say to grant funders we will be here a long time and it will give us opportunities that perhaps the council didn’t have.”

Information about the plans to reopen Wallasey Village library and how to get involved can be found on their website

Lead image: The Wallasey Village Library and Community Centre, the charitable trust taking over the library. Credit: Ed Barnes

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