Blackheath Community Library is run by the Age Exchange, a long standing local charity, and cosy school trip destination!
Age Exchange staff manage a team of 22 regular volunteers, and together they keep the library open full time, 9 hours a day, 56 hours a week. This breaks down to 16 shifts (3hr stints) per week which takes a serious amount of effort.
While the entire village may have protested the ending of Lewisham’s library service provision, Blackheath mostly has its retired community to thank for keeping the treasured service running. Students and young parents also number amongst the volunteers, slipping in shifts where they can.
“We’re all proud to live in a community where people are happy to do three hours while children are at school” says Alex from Age Exchange. “We have some amazing people here who wanted the library to stay open.”
But people have busy lives with families, there are illnesses and appointments, and so Age Exchange staff have to step in to cover missing volunteer shifts in addition to their regular jobs.
The key to making Blackheath Library work is its location, in the middle of the village, inside the cafe and the Age Exchange Reminiscence centre. There is regular foot traffic and it makes covering volunteer shifts possible. If the community centre and cafe were not there, covering missing volunteers would be nigh on impossible meaning likely possible closures at short notice.
Another major issue for community libraries is the loss of qualified librarians. The loss of their professional librarian is still keenly felt; Alex continued: “Blackheath has been without a professional librarian for 2 years- community centre staff do step up to help with enquiries where they can.”
“It takes a lot of effort to keep things running, and this community was willing to step in to ensure a service continued. Even if there are gaps, it is better than no library at all. We really appreciate and are grateful for our volunteers.”