In the South Manchester suburb of Fallowfield, long term residents Cath Clarke and Lil Luckham have been instrumental in saving the town’s local library from the threat of imminent closure.
As trustees of the library and founding members of the Friends of Fallowfield, they have each put in more than 5,000 hours of their personal time, ensuring the library continues to deliver its vital service for thousands of residents living.
From my first visit as a child back in 1965, this library opened my world up. I came from a very overcrowded home where there were no books so if you wanted to do your homework, you went to your local library. I remember the very first thing I came to this library for: my teacher had said you need to go home and start a project about Tutankhamun. I remember asking my mother about it and she said, ‘who’s he; who’s that?’ so I came to the library and I was sent me to the children’s section. The librarian bought me this huge encyclopaedia and from that moment onwards it just changed my outlook on everything. It really did open my entire world.
When the proposed closure came about, my anger, it was palpable. People will tell you I was the very angry one in the beginning. I read a great article by Janet Street Porter a couple of years ago. She said the saviours of society would be grumpy old women, so I’m more than happy to be classed as that, if this building continues to thrive and grow and keep contributing.
When I came back into this library, nostalgia kicked in. I used to come here as a child and a young teenager. I moved back to Fallowfield five and a half years ago. I started to see people again that I’d known from 40 odd years prior. Those friendships had built up. I went into a local church coffee morning with a neighbour a few years ago and I was handed a small flier that said, ‘Fallowfield Library is to close’.
It advertised a public consultation so we turned up to see what was going on, not realising the scope of the project we were about to embark upon! In the early days of our campaign, we didn’t completely know where to start to be honest. There was a big question around where we were going and what was needed, or what was expected of us, but we did everything we could. We initially had dialect with the council and then with a local housing association – now One Manchester.
Eventually, we developed such a good relationship with the council that they said the way we had progressed in saving the library would help them take a fresh approach in terms of how they look at other public buildings. We’ve changed the way they work on such projects as a council and that means an awful lot to all of us. We just do whatever’s needed, whether it’s opening, closing, setting up for an event; it’s become a way of life.
The Place at Platt Lane is a lovely building with lots of history and has been a part of the community since the 1930s. We didn’t want this to be another supermarket or something that was simply there for commercial reasons. We felt passionate that it had to be kept open.