IT'S often said that libraries are the heart of their community and nowhere is that truer than in Bentham.

Residents are now enjoying the benefit of the efforts of local volunteers, a charity and North Yorkshire County Council, who have come together to ensure the library thrives in bright new surroundings. The community celebrated this success on Saturday, 15 July, with the library’s official launch in its new premises.

Bentham became a community-managed library in April as part of a transformation requiring all North Yorkshire libraries to be run or supported by volunteers. It moved into its new home in May thanks to a partnership between health and arts charity Pioneer Projects, volunteer group the Friends of Bentham Library and North Yorkshire County Council’s library service and Stronger Communities team.

It now occupies the second floor at Pioneer Projects’ centre in King Street. Alterations were made to open up the space, which has been newly decorated and furnished and has seen the addition of £10,000 of books.

The chapter of Bentham library’s story that has led it to its new home began at the start of the decade when the County Council first looked at the future of the library service.

Area librarian Hazel Smith says: “Around 2010 we needed to consult on savings. At that time, the Friends of Bentham Library was formed to support the library and to campaign to keep it open. The Friends came forward to help us maintain the library’s opening hours as they were then.”

At that time, the library was in Robin Lane in a Victorian building that had been its home since 1983.

A couple of years ago, the process began to transfer 21 more libraries, including Bentham, to community management. The Friends of Bentham Library (FoBL) couldn’t take it on alone, so considered sharing costs and premises with other organisations. With help from the County Council’s teams, a link-up with Pioneer Projects was proposed.

Sue Vasey, Interim Director of Pioneer Projects, said: “The timing was really good. We had decided we wanted to be a community hub for Bentham, so hosting the library here fit with our aspirations as a charity to bring more residents in and to see the building as a more holistic community venue.

“The library coming in has revitalised our ambitions for the building. It has given us a lift to have so many new people coming in. Our main funding more recently has been around people with dementia, but we are very aware that a venue like this and an organisation with over 50 volunteers has a much bigger role to play. We are going to look at supporting younger people, particularly young adults, and develop further our work with people living with mental ill health and the wider community. It is a really exciting time for us. It really has brought energy back to both the library and to us.

“The county council, the FoBL and Pioneer worked very well together, so credit to everyone for that, because change is hard, particularly when it is something you feel passionate about.”

FoBL has about 20 volunteers, who now come under Pioneer Projects, while FoBL continues as a fundraising body and offers oversight, ready to step in if issues arise that need its support. The library volunteers receive seven hours of support from County Council library staff each week.

Linda Brockbank, chair of FoBL, said: “The new library is wonderful. It is in a good location, light and airy with fabulous views, and the computer area is much improved. We’ve had people coming in for a look and joining the library. The move has given it a new lease on life.”

Hazel Smith adds: “All the feedback has been amazing, really positive. People love the space. We have designed the library so the central shelving moves. We can have a whole school class in – the schoolchildren love the new books – or groups around tables. It’s a flexible space that helps us get people in as much as possible.”

In common with others involved in the library, Linda is keen to see longer opening hours, including evening opening, and would like use to be made of the garden that forms part of Pioneer Projects’ premises to help make going to the library more of a social occasion.

“The potential to expand the library as a social meeting place is there,” she says.

As a step towards this, the library is to stock newspapers, paid for by FoBL and the County Council, and local County Councillor David Ireton has used part of his locality budget to buy a coffee machine for the library.

County Councillor Greg White, Executive Member for Library and Information Services, said: “When we consulted on the future of the library service, people were determined their libraries would not fall victim to budget cuts. Encouraged by this spirit, we went all-out to involve each community in the design and delivery of their library services. There was lots of hard work over two years, particularly by the local groups and individuals. We’ve also drawn on the expert help generously given by the nine libraries that transferred to community management five years earlier.

“Nowhere have the benefits of teamwork been more apparent than in Bentham where they have resulted in the library being housed at the heart of the community in this bright, flexible space that all residents can enjoy.”

Bentham is one of several new community-managed libraries in Craven, the others being Settle, Ingleton and South Craven at Crosshills. These libraries join existing community-managed libraries at Gargrave, Grassington and Embsay and the core library for the district in Skipton.