A LIBRARY and tourist information centre which was at risk of closure but fought back, increasing opening hours by 300 per cent whilst saving its local authority 30 per cent in costs, has won Britain’s top award for town community projects.
The Community Hub in Wooler has beaten competition from across the UK to become overall winner of the 2012 Action for Market Towns (AMT) Awards.
AMT works with over 450 member towns across the UK and its award scheme showcases the “innovation, self-reliance and creativity” which chief executive Chris Wade says is at the heart of so many UK towns.
Neil Wilson of Glendale Gateway Trust (GGT) collected the award at a ceremony hosted by TV presenter Dr David Starkey at the AMT national convention in Kendal last Thursday.
Tom Johnston, GGT director, said: “This is terrific news for us. The library project was many years in the making, but all the time and effort put in by trustees and staff has been worthwhile. The new service is a great result for the community of Glendale, and for our partners the local authority.”
When Northumberland County Council needed to make significant cost savings, there was a real risk that Wooler would lose its tourist information centre and library service – which services an area of some 250 square miles.
But GGT instigated and led a partnership project, securing funding for a complete re-fit and relocation of Wooler library, including the tourist information centre within a community facility, and taking on Wooler’s old library building for development as affordable housing.
The new library has seen a 20 per cent increase in book lending, 95 per cent increase in visitor numbers and 150 per cent increase in membership – and its opening hours have increased by 300 per cent. And the relocated tourist centre has seen a 70 per cent increase in gross income.
Coun Neil Bradbury, executive member for customer relations, said: “While other councils have been closing libraries we have been working with communities and investing in innovative schemes to strengthen the service. At the heart of the library move was our desire to make services more accessible for the public and extend opening hours significantly which we have managed to do.
“The new centre is a fantastic resource for local people and visitors to the area. It has been a great success story and the user statistics over the last year are testament to this.”
Sue Bevan, awards judge, said: “I worked on market town development in Northumberland for many years so I am delighted that the Wooler Community Hub has won this award. The project has been realised because of the vision and tenacity of GGT, its ability to understand and work effectively within a wider strategic context and its aptitude for working in partnership. The result is a superb facility.”