The volunteer-run library that’s securing a future for reading in Hastings

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In the heart of Hastings, Ore Community Library stands as a testament to the power of community action and volunteer efforts.

The cherished local library is celebrating a recently approved 20-year lease, ensuring it remains a community cornerstone for years to come.

Following a series of council budget cuts, the library was closed in 2018 along with seven other branch libraries across East Sussex. “It would have probably been knocked down and sold for development,” recalls library trustee Jim Breeds. Instead, the community took matters into their own hands.

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As one of the most deprived areas in the region, North East Hastings faces significant challenges, including low literacy rates and limited internet access.

The cherished local library is celebrating a recently approved 20-year lease.The cherished local library is celebrating a recently approved 20-year lease.
The cherished local library is celebrating a recently approved 20-year lease.

Community support services provided in spaces like the library are essential. Despite the council saying that residents could use Hastings Central Library instead, the cost of a £5.20 return bus ticket is too high for many low-income families, threatening their access to crucial community services and places that support their mental health and social wellbeing.

Determined to save their library, a team of volunteers took action. With the help of an initial grant from North East Hastings Big Local, matched by a local housing association, a total of £15,000 was raised to save the library.

North East Hastings Big Local is part of the Big Local programme, which puts residents across England in control of decisions about their neighbourhoods, and was awarded £1million by the National Lottery Community Fund 12 years ago to create lasting change in their community.

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Thanks to these community efforts, Ore Community Library is now thriving and managed by over 20 dedicated volunteers. Recently, the library secured a 20-year lease, ensuring it remains a community cornerstone for years to come.

With more than 1,000 members and a collection of over 6,000 book titles, the library offers a range of services, including a book club and story time sessions for children under five. The library’s computer and printing services also provide essential support for residents applying for jobs or needing assistance applying for universal credit and other benefits.

Volunteer coordinator Lizzie Sergeant shared: “We just want to make it a nice place where people can come and feel comfortable.”

The importance of such services cannot be overstated. Nationally, 30% of five-year-olds in England are falling behind their expected reading levels, with the situation being worse in North East Hastings, where the average reading age is nine.

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One parent who attends the weekly story time sessions, where children can engage with reading from a young age, said: “The library’s services are absolutely crucial. I was a regular when I was a child and I’m proud to say my children are regulars here as well.”

Another parent stated: “Reading is obviously a skill that we all need to have and it’s great to see the children have an interest in books.”

With the long-term lease secured, Ore Community Library can now campaign with the certainty of their continued presence. Future plans include making structural improvements to the building, ensuring it can continue to serve the community for generations to come.

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