In Profile: Blackfen Community Library

As part of this blog we regularly post profiles of different community managed libraries. Supplied by some of our network members we hope these will start to build a picture of the different models of community managed libraries that exist and that we can learn from each other’s experiences.

This month we’d like to welcome Blackfen Community Library to the blog.

Who we are

We are a community library in the heart of Blackfen High Street and our vision is to have an ‘open door’ for our community – providing opportunities to access a great world of books in a comforting ‘third space’ – a home away from home. We believe our library space offers us the opportunity to not only cater for specific population groups, such as children, families, students, the unemployed, carers, the retired and anyone who needs a place to belong – but also a brilliant way to bring different groups in our community together. Our motto is ‘a big hello’ – a warm greeting and welcoming space for everyone – including those who may not always feel welcome elsewhere. Our coffee shop is a central part of our library and we run various programmes and events in the space to bring our community together.  We have big ideas for the future and our staff and volunteers have a big heart, using our space to impact Blackfen for good.

How we run

In 2015/16 The London Borough of Bexley invited community organisations to apply to run several libraries in Bexley including the Blackfen library. The New Generation Church Trust (who runs other community projects in the local area, such as Lark in the Park and Hope Community School) applied to the Council and were approved to run the library in Blackfen as a community library. The New Generation Community Trust was then established to deliver the service level agreement in partnership with Bexley Council.

The New Generation Community Trust opened the Blackfen Community Library in April 2016 and the library now has just over 3,600 members. The Library management is governed by the Trustees of the New Generation Community Trust who meet quarterly. We have a manager who is currently a volunteer and leads a team that has a mix of volunteers and paid staff on a day to day basis. Many of the library tasks are lead and managed by experienced volunteers (Library Leads and volunteer champions) and they are responsible for book stock management, book replenishment, handling the Library Management System and computer and printing access. The Community Lead (volunteer) coordinates and organises the programmes run in the Library, such as children’s story times, recruits volunteers and links with schools. The paid staff are all part-time and assist with financial administration, facilities management and running the coffee shop.

The London Borough of Bexley support the Blackfen Community Library through quarterly funding grants, enabling peppercorn rent for the lease of our building and assistance with facilities and repair costs for our building. We cover the costs of our IT, utilities, access to the Library Management System and other running costs. We also do other fundraising and have received some ad hoc grants from local traders (e.g. the local Tesco and Co-op do local fundraising in their stores for us) and we have just launched a ‘Friends of the Library’ scheme providing special benefits to members who pay an annual subscription, such as free hot drinks from the coffee shop and venue hire discounts. All the revenue from the coffee shop goes into the Library as do other small sales from second hand books and small charges for printing and copying. We have generous donors who contribute to special events, such as the ‘open door’ lunch we run to encourage isolated people in the community to come out for a meal and meet other people from the local area, and our free Santa’s Grotto with presents for local children.

We have a close working relationship with the Council and report on a quarterly basis on progress against key performance indicators and events going on in the Library.

What we offer

Our community library offers a great range of books for adults and children and we regularly ask our users what books they would like to borrow to inform our stock orders. We have a book club and craft group for adults, space to sit and study; free wifi and computer access with affordable printing for those who have no personal access to computers. We have a dedicated space for children (and we hope to further develop a space for young adults). We run fun and educational experiences for babies and pre-schoolers (every week there is one programme for under 1 year olds, two ‘story and rhyme times’ with singing, and one craft activity for pre-schoolers), and a space for their carers to relax with a coffee and no pressure to leave. Our coffee shop is buggy and kid friendly and we run a coffee morning once a week with discounted hot drinks to encourage people to come and make friends.

We run craft and scrabble clubs for adults and the retired, with subsidized drinks so pensioners can enjoy some affordable social time. We make space for groups who would otherwise find it hard to find a place to meet – like the local Parkinsons support group who have a monthly coffee morning in the library meeting space, with special mugs and VIP treatment from the coffee shop. In the summer we ran a ‘pop-up’ Library in the park as part of Lark in the Park to promote awareness of our Library and ran story times in the park for children.

We are also the only premise with a public toilet on our entire high-street, so we make sure it is in excellent condition and hassle free to access.

We offer volunteering opportunities and work experience for those who are unemployed or under-employed and involve local volunteers in every part of our organisation, from shelving books, to making coffees and planning library activities. We hope to provide more sophisticated training and work experience in the future to our volunteers.  We have close links with the Bexley Volunteer Service Council, who refer volunteers to us, and we are further developing our links into local schools to offer high quality work experience.

We currently have 15 Library volunteers and 4 coffee shop volunteers on a weekly basis and a wider team of up to 27 volunteers at any given time.  We have recently recruited 5 part-time employees across the library and coffee shop to enable us to extend our open hours from 25 to 32 hours a week (10am-5pm Tuesday to Friday and 9am-5pm on Saturdays).

Our vision for the future

The focus of the last 18 months has been on establishing ourselves on the high street and growing our membership and programmes. We want to continue to build on the Library’s success to create a lively community hub providing great library services and a creative and empowering space for the community of Blackfen. Ideas we have include providing more formal training and inspiring experiences for our volunteers (to ‘give back’ and build capability in our volunteers), develop book related parties for children, to develop a creative space for young people to express their literary work (open mic sessions/book launches), to provide more support and training to facilitate work experience for young people with disabilities; provide work experience opportunities in the coffee shop that provide unemployed people valuable transferable skills, provide ‘life coaching’ sessions for our staff and volunteers to enable them to achieve their potential, running repeat events that have been successful in bringing isolated people in the community to the Library (in partnership with local traders) and inspiring local writers and performers to use our space to promote local creativity and bring people together.  We also want to network with other community libraries in our area and further afield to learn from best practice, share knowledge and improve our capability.

You can connect with us at:

Thank you Blackfen Community Library for this brilliant in-depth profile of the work you’re doing and best wishes with your future plans, we look forward to hearing how you’re getting on.

If you’d like to share your library’s story with the community managed libraries network via this blog then please fill in the Contact Us form or email


Guest post: Chris Plant on his experience of the Legal and Governance Workshop

The Community Managed Libraries network is running a number of webinars and workshops on topics relevant to those that are involved in running community managed libraries. Following on from our November Legal and Governance workshop delivered by David Alcock from Anthony Collins Solicitors, we asked one of the attendees, Chris Plant, if he would write a post about the event and his experience of it.

My name is Chris Plant. I am Staffordshire County Councils Libraries and Arts Service Community Capacity Manager. Following Staffordshire County Councils commitment to transform its Libraries and Arts Service and not close any libraries in the County, I hold responsibility for the transfer of 23 of the County Councils 43 Libraries through into community management. I manage a Team of 6 Community Support Officers who help recruit, train,build capacity and provide ongoing support to the 800+ volunteers and 13 community organisations who are currently operating in Staffordshire’s Libraries.

So far in Staffordshire we have transferred 18 Libraries through to community management. We are currently progressing the 5 remaining library transfers. We are also working in partnership with all the community organisations to ensure all 23 Community Managed Libraries are sustainable as we move forward into our third year of Library Service transformation.

I registered on the Legal and Governance session with Anthony Collins Solicitors after reading about the session on the Community Managed Libraries Network Blog.

I felt that as a member of staff working for Staffordshire County Council it would help to have a refresh of some of the detail relating to key topics such as setting up a community enterprise, dealing with governance and community organisations arrangements with local authorities.

In my previous role in Housing I had worked closely with Anthony Collins and so I was confident that the training offered would be of a good quality and provide me with some additional knowledge and understanding. I’m fully aware too that these sort of sessions can provide an excellent networking opportunity. I’m a huge believer in learning and sharing with colleagues (both staff and volunteers) across the West Midlands and beyond to help embed best practice.

The Workshop saw quite a diverse group of attendees from across the country. There was representation from Upper Norwood Library Trust (who are, of course, facilitators of the National Community Managed Libraries Network). There was also attendance from Cambridge Council, volunteers from Coventry City Council Library Service as well as Harbury Community Library in Warwickshire. The London Borough of Brent was also represented too. Also one of Staffordshire’s early transfer Community Managed Libraries in Rising Brook, Stafford attended. Viv, the Lead Volunteer there is a member of the Community Managed Libraries Network and booked the session co-incidentally to me. Good to see her there.

David Alcock from Antony Collins led the session. Aside from the key areas outlined above, what really brought the session alive were David’s real life examples and experiences that he had working with community organisations and some of the trials and tribulations and learning they went through. I found this approach engaging and it allowed for a better understanding than just the legal facts as they sit.

The session was well paced and allowed for contributions from those in attendance, both with questions from our differing perspectives and also experiences and examples we had been through whether as a community organisation or staff within our respective authorities.

The accompanying notes were comprehensive and have provided a good ‘go-to’ suite of information for myself and my Team to refer to as we engage further with community organisations moving forward.

I don’t want to concentrate on the finer detail of the course except to say it was comprehensive, but a couple of the key points that I picked up…

‘Not worrying about labels associated with different legal structures’ and an overview of Charitable Status criteria, managing risk, models of working with councils and tools and structures for doing so. This was all really good stuff to update myself and my Team on and be able to further understand Community Managed Libraries in Staffordshire requirements.

All in all, I found the session to be a great networking opportunity, a comprehensive briefing session and actually a pretty enjoyable half day out!!

Thank you Chris. Chris Plant is Community Capacity Manager at Staffordshire Libraries and Arts Service. For the latest news from the team visit their ‘People Helping People’ Blog




The next Community Managed Libraries event is a free Business Planning webinar on 15th December. You can reserve your place and find out how to join the webinar here and our future events can all be found on the blog events page.