Reading is important.
According to the World Literacy Foundation, poor levels of literacy across the country cost the UK an estimated £81 billion every year in lost earnings and increased welfare spending, and a recent study by Emory University in the US has shown that the mental process of becoming deeply engrossed in a page-turner of a novel actively enhances synaptic connectivity and improves brain function.
It keeps minds sharp and aids mental health, but despite the obvious significance of reading when it comes to cognitive development and maintenance, Fulwood Library closed back in 2016 due to cuts.
Thankfully reopened a year later following a change in political stewardship at County Hall, Fulwood Library now has a new support group at the helm, a group of bibliophiles ready and willing to turn what has proved to be a well-loved library into even more of a community hub.
Enter, the Friends of Fulwood Library.
Established as part of a Lancashire County Council initiative, the group aims to promote the library’s myriad events, as well as the sheer pleasure of reading. Now boasting around 40 members, the Friends of Fulwood Library launched their group with an event last month, signalling their intent to get Fulwood reading and using the library more and more with an afternoon of poetry, music, activities, and refreshments.
Lancaster-born Ben Guilfoyle, known as the ‘Woolly Hat Poet’, performed, while the Clann Bheatha Ceilidh Band were also on hand to lend a musical tint to proceedings, with FoFL committee member and former Lancashire Evening Post employee Kate Jenner (62) saying that the event went ‘really well’.
“We had dozens of people here so it was really special, and committee members made afternoon tea - it was lovely,” said Kate. “I made sure local primary schools knew about it - it’s in their interest to promote library use - so we got an awful lot of young families.”
Already a well-used library, Kate says that the Friends of Fulwood are out to ensure that it continues to be well used going forward.
“We’re determined that now it’s open, we don’t want to lose it again and it’s going well,” she explained. “The idea is to emphasise the use of the library as a community hub. It already has lots of clubs and societies connected with it and we just want to promote it as a public service.
“A big local campaign was fought to keep the library going; people are committed to it, people like it,” added Kate, a former UCLan lecturer. “We’re really glad we got the group going.”
On a basic level, the library hopes to instil in everyone - young and old alike - a love of books. However, in an entertainment era defined by the ease of access to binge-worthy TV shows, never-ending streams of YouTube content and other social media, and chaotic working lives, the concept of stealing away for a quiet time with a book is becoming increasingly novel.
In fact, statistics show that just 35% of 10-year-olds in England say they like reading ‘very much’.
“Anybody is welcome to use the library and people do, right across the generations, but we want young people to get in the habit of using it so that they continue to do so as they grow,” said Kate. “There’s so much more to do here than just books - we have computers, various clubs with taster sessions, adult education, book clubs, music... stuff you wouldn’t expect a library to provide.”
And offering such an eclectic range of things to do is crucial for libraries going forward, according to Kate.
“It’s a really good meeting place for people, and I think that’s the way libraries are going to develop,” she said. “Use it or lose it: we have to back these activities and services and it’s down to local people to help.
“We are determined to support the library as best we can.”