24 October 2016

Press Release: Forest Hill Library Reopens Today

Forest Hill Library reopened by a sweet-shop owner, a fishing-tackle entrepreneur, and Bertrand Russell’s grandson

Forest Hill Library in South London re-opened today, 24 October 2016, as a community library with specialisms in philosophy and the visual arts. A counterpoint to the fate of so many similar libraries across the country, the building will continue to act as a community hub and library, with events for children, facilities for jobseekers and activities for pensioners, but will have some unique features which will make it a destination for people from across the capital.

The Grade II listed Forest Hill Library originally opened in 1901, and has been under the management of the London Borough of Lewisham for many decades. The successful community bid to run the library was put together by V22 – the art organisation based in neighbouring Louise House; the Forest Hill Society – the main residents’ association in SE23; the Forest Hill Traders’ Association – a local business forum; along with several concerned individuals.

Plans for the building include:
•    a specialist art library
•    a philosophy collection put together by the Philosophy Foundation, along with a range of philosophy events for schools, young people and adults
•    new second language sections in the children’s library
•    a collections curator who will take advantage of the 5 million-plus books available through the Lewisham Library and Information Service and the London Libraries Consortium to create browseable displays, including a monthly crowd-sourced theme
•    a dedicated schools’ co-ordinator
•    a continuation of existing events such as the origami club and under 5s stories and songs, as well as new events inspired by the partners, the community and tenants

The Forest Hill Library building will be staffed by volunteers, 110 of whom have already signed up. The initiative is being kick-started by a Crowdfunder campaign and Friends of Forest Hill Library scheme which has already raised several thousand pounds in a few weeks with enormous community support.

The London Borough of Lewisham’s library service will continue to provide advice, training and access to books from its own collections and the London Libraries Consortium. Under-utilised space upstairs will be let as offices and deskspace to generate income for the building. Anchor tenants the Philosophy Foundation will be based there, alongside local creatives, freelancers and entrepreneurs.

Tara Cranswick, CEO of V22 said,
“In a city as glorious as London, and a community as active as Forest Hill, it makes perfect sense for neighbours to come together to save this vital piece of community infrastructure and to transform it into a unique resource. Although Lewisham has had to make difficult decisions due to funding constraints, the approach it is taking does seem to be positive and proactive.”
Head of Library Services for the London Borough of Lewisham, Antonio Rizzo, commented,
“What the Forest Hill community has achieved through the library building is remarkable for two reasons. It reaffirms the stake they have in this valued and much loved building and pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved when people come together. The Library Service is excited about the opportunities that this collaboration brings”.
 
Michael Abrahams is the chair of the Forest Hill Society and has lived in Forest Hill since 1979. Michael was the initial Chair of the Forest Hill Society and has chaired the group between 2006‐2008 and again since 2013, he is also a member of the Forest Hill Assembly Coordinating Group. Michael is a professional online Product Manager with 15 years’ experience in on‐line information systems.
"We have been delighted by the response from the community to this initiative, with lots of people volunteering to help make this a great community library. We are proud to be working with V22, with their experience of managing studios and listing buildings". - Michael Abrahams

Simon Higgs is co‐owner of The Archie Parker coffee shop on Dartmouth Road among other business ventures.  Simon is on the executive board of Forest Hill Traders’ Association and will be integral to setting up the day to day running of the new Forest Hill Community Library. We are delighted that an eminent local entrepreneur and businessman is willing to devote his time to making the community bid a success.

"You say the word 'library' to people and they understand, they know about closures and under-funding, of libraries being turned into glorified cafes and gyms. However, the people and businesses of Forest Hill have gone a step further than just knowing about the threat to our library, they have really rallied behind us and wanted to help, be it by volunteering or donating, everyone wishing they could do more; it is a contagious momentum, heart-warming and inspiring." - Simon Higgs

Pauline Wright is the owner of Sugar Mountain on Dartmouth Road, an executive member of Forest Hill Traders’ - "I am absolutely thrilled that our community partnership bid was the winning bid for our library.  All of us bring something different to our group and together I feel we make the perfect team to create something special for Forest Hill library. I am extremely excited about giving the local kids a voice in how we run the kids library and the input from them has been phenomenal. We are all very aware this is a tough task to take on but we are all very passionate and committed to this and are not taking it lightly!" - Pauline Wright

John Russell (7th Earl Russell) is a Liberal Democrat politician. He is the son of Conrad Russell, 5th Earl Russell, grandson of Bertrand Russell and great-great-grandson of John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1864 to 1865. John has been a Forest Hill resident for over 16 years. He served as a Liberal Democrat councillor on Lewisham Borough Council 2006-10 and was the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Greenwich and Lewisham Greater London Assembly seat in 2012.

"I am delighted to be involved with this innovative community project. Libraries are gateways to learning and personal development. I am thrilled that the whole Forest Hill Community has come together to support the community library. The closure of our library would have left a gaping hole in our community. We plan to make this the best possible community library that we can; working directly with local residents we will plan services to strengthen and enhance our community. We passionately believe that a well-run and responsive community library is a powerful tool to help empower individuals and to raise the educational attainment and emotional wellbeing of our residents" - John Russell


The Philosophy Foundation 

The Philosophy Foundation is an award-winning educational charity based in Forest Hill, raising aspirations and attainment through doing philosophy in schools, communities and the workplace. The Philosophy Foundation trains and accredits philosophy graduates to facilitate philosophical conversations in a variety of community settings, but with a focus on primary schools.

Founded in 2007, The Foundation began working with 5 schools in Lewisham, but now conducts philosophical enquiries in over 40 schools around London on a weekly basis, reaching over 7,300 children every year, and working in a variety of settings including high-security prisons, hospitals and special educational needs schools.

In their capacity as the Library’s anchor tenant, The Philosophy Foundation will be ‘philosophers-in-residence’, renting office space on the premises, as well as running workshops and philosophy sessions for children and adults, and helping to create and look after the philosophy section of the library. This new specialist section will not only comprise academic philosophy books, but also popular philosophy books, and picture books for doing philosophy with children.

"Having worked in schools across Forest Hill for the past 13 years, we are really pleased to finally have a base in the community and are excited about the opportunities this will bring for introducing philosophy – and its benefits – to a wider audience." - Emma Worley, COO

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