February 2017


As described in a previous post, I’m working my way around Kent’s libraries. Today we stayed relatively close to home, as we explored the Gravesend/Gravesham area, visiting 6 libraries of similar age, but each with different characters.

Higham library

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First stop was Higham, where a friend’s daughter is doing some voluntary work. As we arrived, the Saturday board games club was in full swing, with Izzy fully involved. There is a lovely courtyard garden outside the library, and evidence of local skilled craftspeople, as the library has a couple of beautifully worked wall hangings on display. The one below celebrates their connection with Dickens (whose house was at Gad’s Hill – actually closer to Higham than Rochester – who usually trumpet him as their own!)

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Coldharbour library

One of the larger ones we visited, this library is situated next to a health centre. At one end is a large children’s area, and all around there are lots of book related quotes on the walls. There is a separate section for older children, with computer, desks and comfy seats, plus a colourful stained glass window.

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Also, to the left of the library is a small building – not sure whether it is a garage for a mobile, or just a storage shed, but it has appropriate graffiti decoration – credited to the Coldharbour Crew: Free books, Free ideas!

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Dashwood library

Next stop was Dashwood library – which wins the prize for the tiniest building visited so far. It looks not much bigger than a double garage, and unfortunately didn’t open until later that afternoon, so I couldn’t go in – but there was a small window in the door so I could see that inside it is completely lined with bookshelves, brightly painted and looks welcoming. Its situated at the edge of a park, which was busy on a Saturday morning with football practice. Apparently (we heard from a library worker we spoke with later) there used to be a nursery over the road, which brought in lots of extra visitors.

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Kings Farm library

This library is on the Kings Farm estate – next to a building bearing a carved sign: ‘Estate Office’. The estate was apparently mostly built in the 1920s, but has been substantially rebuilt/refurbished over the last 20 years. If you google the estate, you only get bad news stories,  but the library was bright and welcoming inside, with a colourful children’s section, and customers using the computers

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Marling Cross library

Penultimate stop was Marling Cross library – another that unfortunately wasn’t due to open until after lunch, but through the huge glass windows, looks modern and tidy. Posters advertised a diverse number of groups meet there, from code club, to mums and toddlers, to knit and natter. It is another that was part of a row of shops, and it’s next to a doctor’s surgery.

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Riverview Park library

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Last stop for today, we called in to Riverview Park. This hexagonal library was opened in 1964. It is situated next to a row of shops, by a reasonable sized carpark – and apparently (according to a bronze plaque on the wall) on the site of the old Gravesend airfield. Inside, the shelving echoes the unusual shape and peaked roof, with wooden peaks above each bay. In the centre of the building is the old mainmast of a Thames sailing barge.

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And we did borrow some books from this library – after a slight confusion, as my Medway card should be valid, but the library manager got some slightly odd messages as she put the books through. And another thing we learned, as another borrower went to take out a book, the computer beeped and alerted her to the fact she had borrowed it before. A good tip – and she went back to choose something else. Apparently the self service machines don’t do that – something to look into perhaps?!

All the photos I’ve taken to date of libraries run by Kent County Council are in this album. Still some way to go!

 

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I had to stop myself from scattering the word “inspiring” too frequently in this post, but it would be truly deserved. Today I was lucky to be invited to the event run by the Good Things Foundation, to celebrate reaching their 2 Millionth Learner.

As their website says:

“At Good Things Foundation, our aim is to improve lives through digital. And at the end of last year we reached a significant milestone – helping 2 million people gain new digital skills since 2010.

We wanted to put that milestone into context by finding some of the individuals who made up that 2 million, and following their stories.”

And just as they did when they reached their first M milestone, they used the opportunity to scan their community, reaching out to all the different partners who run courses, and seek nominations for awards.

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Helen Milner, CEO of the Good Things Foundation, kicking off the event. (I can’t remember what she had just said, but I love the shadow play and display of hands in this photo!)

The event today – which started off with lunch on the famous rotating 34th floor of the BT Tower,  aimed to celebrate all 2 million, and share some of the lives changed through learning. All the winners and their stories are shared on the website, but as I’ve come into contact with the Good Things team through work they have done with libraries, I was really pleased to find out that 2 of the winners learned their skills in programmes run in libraries.

The Learning for Health award was won by Bertram Henry. He suffered a breakdown 10 years ago, and  has gradually worked his back to health. First by learning digital skills for himself, then, when the online centre manager at Longsight library saw how much he was enjoying his learning, she suggested he become a volunteered as a digital champion. His enthusiasm shines through as he shares his skills with others – and as he says “Now I’m happy with myself. I’m not down in the dumps anymore and that’s thanks to Linda and Learn My Way“. [Learn My Way is the  online learning platform built by Good Things Foundation to make getting online easy.]

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Bertram receiving his award from a representative of MIND, with Helen on his right.

Another  award winner with a library connection is Tasleem Akhtar, who was runner up for the Inspirational Learner award. She came to England from Pakistan, was living in a refuge with her young son, and knew that to build a better life she had to get back to her studies. She did the Learn My Way courses at Newcastle library, is now at college – and is now helping others to follow her same journey.  “I was very, very excited to be able to study again. I know if I can learn, I can make my life better. I did not know much about digital before. I could use my phone to make a call but nothing else! Now I know much, much more. You need to know this to be part of society.

I found out that I can volunteer at the library at the same time as learning. So I have something for myself now, but even better I can show other people how to have that too. That has made a big difference to me. I can tell other people ‘I was there too’. You must be strong. You must keep trying to find a way to do what you want to do.”

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Tasleem with Helen, and her certificate.

While I was talking with one of the winners, Jenny Bayliss, runner up in the Learning for Work award, who had been introduced as learning her digital skills via Citizens Advice East Staffordshire, leaned over and said that she too now ran sessions in her local library, in Burton. Apparently when the CAB had to move out of their offices, they looked around for available space in the town, and found the library was just right for their needs.

I urge you to read some of the other inspirational stories on the website: Paul – who was left with serious brain injury after a car crash; Bob – who actually suffered a stroke during his digital skills class, but didn’t let that stop him – and was straight back to classes after his stay in hospital, using the internet to find out more about his condition; and Margaret, who used the opportunity to learn digital skills as she fought addiction and depression. One thing they all had in common, was that they said they didn’t think what they had achieved was anything special, but as Helen wrote in the event programme: “I  hope this ceremony helps them realise how special their very different journeys and achievements are”.

In the words of the final winner, the truly inspirational Olwyn Popplewell (who just a couple of years ago was sleeping rough – but now has his own flat and a job, and still finds time to volunteer at Evolve, the shelter organisation who helped him, and whose facility includes an online centre) – I wouldn’t be where I am now, I wouldn’t have done even a quarter of it ….. without someone helping me, being so positive, believing in me …. I’ve come from sleeping on park benches to my own place. I’m accepting this award on behalf of all those who want to make their lives better.