In 2016, when the austerity cuts were not so much trimming any flab but cutting down to the bone, things looked bleak for the community baths and the Carnegie library in Levenshulme. Both were closed down, but after working closely with an active community group, the council built and opened the nearby Arcadia centre that now houses a new library and baths. But what was to happen to the redundant library and swimming baths buildings that were located in the less fashionable side of Levenshulme?

Jez Hall has been around Levenshulme for about 30 years and is treasurer of the Levenshulme Old Library committee, which oversaw its reopening in 2018. He kindly took the time to speak to Now Then about the background to the project and the plans for the library’s future.

“There was interest in the community and, with others, we first of all formed an association then went on to form a charity called the Levenshulme Old Library Community Interest Organisation (LOL CIO) to enable us to take on a lease from the council, and so we’re a registered charity with a committee of trustees and people involved in it as such.”

We’ve got 12 people on the committee. There’s a constitution. We’re a registered charity and basically people either step forward and say they want to be on the committee or, if there are too many of them, then there could be an election at our AGM.”

Jez continued: “We did an initial consultation in that first phase, before we formed the charity, and arts and culture came out strongly as a need in the community and that seemed to inspire the people who then stuck with the idea. So that’s our basic vision, to create a cultural centre or a centre for community arts, so that people will be able to have exposure to the arts or be able to do creative things themselves.”

The layout of the building conveniently allows it to be split into three distinct sections with the largest room intended to be a multifunctional area, not being tied down to one type of activity. It recently held a music concert featuring a local artist, Caoilfhionn Rose Birley [see Live section of this issue], amongst the performers and the room was packed.

LOL CIO shares the premises with ALL FM [a community based radio network that stands for Ardwick, Longsight and Levenshulme], the Levenshulme Youth Forum and the Owl and the Coconut. ALL FM were trying to move from their buildings and were looking at the vacant library, but didn’t have the scale to take over the whole project. So, rather than compete, a mutually beneficial agreement was reached, meaning the premises are normally occupied, there are regular revenue streams and various community voices are heard, including the youth element via the LYF, which is a key focus area for the charity. At about the same time, the Owl and the Coconut were looking for a venue to offer a programme of arts and wellbeing activities so teaming up was a natural fit.

Jez explained how other people can get involved. “We do a lot of social media stuff, so we have Facebook group, a Levenshulme Old Library page and a Twitter account, as well as a mailing list so people can find out what’s going on. The best way to get involved is to come to the activities. We have a volunteer co-ordinator, but we always need more people.”

The creative hub within Levenshulme is constantly growing. How does the Levenshulme Old Library project interact with them?

“It wasn’t just about saving a lovely building, but about the activities being accessible for the whole of Levenshulme.”

Jez continued: “We wanted to fill a niche that we felt others weren’t fulfilling. So that’s why we don’t have a regular bar, for example, as we didn’t want to take away from places like the Klondyke or other venues. And it’s not a church or faith building. So we thought that this was a unique place for any age, any faith or any community to get involved in. But it also served that bit of Levenshulme, which isn’t quite as hipster and which isn’t quite so cool, over on the Gorton side.”

“We work closely with them [other local groups] and hope we add value to what they do and we all interact. It’s all about collaboration, really.”

“It sounds a bit poncy, but I’ll put it this way: community is not a noun but it’s a verb. It’s a process of building a community. Where everyone can get involved. Like on 11 May we are hosting a co-design and celebration event and we’re inviting anyone to come along and help shape what we’re doing.”

One example of this interaction will be later this year at LevyFringe2019 (4-19 July), which is supported by Arts Council England. This will allow the LOL CIO to collaborate with Levy Markets and work alongside Manchester International Festival (MIF). The intention is to draw people from the city centre towards Levenshulme and allow people who cannot get to the city centre to enjoy MIF from closer to home.

Finally, the last words go to Jez: “We’re just trying to create an excellent space for all sorts of people to come together.”

levenshulmeoldlibrary.org.uk

Background photo of Caoilfhionn Rose at Levy Old Library by Ged Camera.

Ged Camera