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15 September 2018

Forest Hill Community Library Approaches Its Second Anniversary

By John Firmin
Time flies but it’s been two years since our library was saved by a community consortium comprising V22 — the arts organisation based in next-door Louise House, the Forest Hill Trader’s Association, the Forest Hill Society and several local individuals concerned by plans to close the library.

Since then, the library has flourished. At the end of 2017, the number of visits each month was 15 per cent greater than a year earlier and in 2018 consistently exceeds 11,000 every month. Book borrowing is also healthy, particularly by the under-11s. This is very evident in the Summer Reading Challenge, which aims to get kids using libraries and reading during the summer holidays. In 2017 Forest Hill had more children take on the challenge than any other library in Lewisham except the main central library itself, and we had more children complete the challenge than any other community library. More than 250 children gained a medal for reading six books. Over 430 children signed up to the challenge and we are well on the way to achieving the target set by Lewisham libraries. It’s great when children become library members for the first time in order to tackle the challenge.

Forest Hill Library is open and staffed for longer than any other community library in the borough and, with the exception of Blackheath library, issues more books per square foot than any other library. It is an incredible success story on so many fronts.

Securing the future of the library was a major motivator behind the community bid in 2016. But the library is far more than just a source of books. For many people it is vital as a means of engaging with the digital world and, regardless of the day of the week, the 17 computers in the library are busy. Activities for under-5s run every Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon (never have I seen so many buggies in one place!); Origami classes take place on Saturdays; a reading group meets once a month; and the library arranges speakers for the Lively Minds Group on the first Monday of each month.

The library’s success owes a great deal to everyone who so generously supported the community bid, to the management team of Simon Higgs and Stephen Bruce and to all the volunteers who keep the library open 66.5 hours each week. Being a library volunteer is a rewarding experience. Seeing the joy on young faces when they tell you about the book they have just read for the summer challenge gives you a warm feeling. When you help the lady who had just lost her husband use a computer to deal with the things that he had always handled, you know you have made a positive difference in someone’s life.

We pay the bills by renting rooms and hiring out the back room for meetings, and with support from Leaf and Groove in Dartmouth Road, which turns donations of books and vinyl records into cash for the library.

If you would like to be involved as a volunteer, or support the library by donating to Leaf and Groove or becoming a “Friend” (£30 per annum) please contact Stephen Bruce at the library by emailing contact@FHLibrary.co.uk or calling 020 8244 0634.

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