Library services across Devon and Torbay are getting an important funding boost for three years with a £720,369 grant awarded to Libraries Unlimited by Arts Council England.

The grant, which will run from 2023 to 2026, will enable Libraries Unlimited to extend its thriving programme of music, films, workshops and creative events.

Libraries Unlimited is the charity which runs 54 libraries across Devon and Torbay.

The award represents a continuation and increase in existing Arts Council funding covering 2019 to 2023 which enabled the charity to create a huge range of impactful events and creative initiatives. Many of these can now be extended.

Libraries Unlimited is already planning the programme, which will include:

  • Themed programmes offering high quality creative and cultural opportunities across Devon and Torbay
  • Extending ‘Library Lates’, an after-hours event already popular in Exeter, into Barnstaple and Torbay
  • Commissions for new and inspiring artwork, developed with and for communities, to be displayed around libraries
  • Creative workshops, cultural events, touring theatre, talks and author events, all with an emphasis on community engagement, equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Film screenings around libraries – including recent award winners and classic films

The money will have a particularly big impact in Torbay, with an additional investment of over £196,000, enabling Libraries Unlimited to roll out creative projects across Torbay.

Libraries Unlimited is planning a range of high-quality events, workshops and other offerings including opportunities for young people to help design cultural takeovers to transform library spaces for local young people.

The award secures Libraries Unlimited’s place as an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation (NPO).

Tabitha Witherick, Head of Library Service and Customer Experience for Libraries Unlimited, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to receive this continued and enhanced funding from the Arts Council.

“We’ve been able to deliver so many engaging events with diverse artists and partners to reach more people in communities all over Devon. Now we can continue this in Devon and expand across Torbay.

“We’re so honoured to be an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation as it enables us to provide inclusive libraries that are thriving, creative and welcoming spaces at the heart of communities.”

Highlights of the past four years of creative events facilitated by the Arts Council funding include:

  • Touring film festivals including classic films, recent award-winners, and a celebration of LGBTQ+ history month
  • The A – Z of Wellbeing, an online portal of small things to see, do and enjoy for a contentment boost
  • Partnership with Literature Works and Quay Words to bring writer-in residence Tolu Agbelusi to Exeter
  • Library Lates – music, poetry and performance after dark in Exeter Library
  • What if you Spoke? – a series of free online masterclasses in writing and illustration from literary prize winners and published authors for young people aged between 15 and 25, culminating in prizes and a feature in a published magazine
  • A pop-up library in the former Gap store in Exeter High Street which included a chance to watch the construction of the cardboard Reading Tree by sculptor James Lake which was subsequently displayed in Barnstaple Library
  • Beyond The Horizon – a series of five talks from international pioneers in library and community practice presented in collaboration with Libraries Connected and the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environment of Health (WCCEH).

Rae Hoole, Creative Communities Producer with Libraries Unlimited, said: “Libraries Unlimited has proven from its creation in 2016 to be a ground-breaking organisation in the way it runs libraries.

“Libraries are at the heart of communities, and it’s wonderful to have this recognised by the Arts Council. Since our first grant three years ago we have taken on the running of the four libraries in Torbay, so this latest investment will in particular allow us a really exciting opportunity to extend our events programme across the Bay.

"We’ll be aiming in particular at younger people, but also events which bring older people and younger people together.”

At the Arts Council press conference, CEO Darren Henley OBE, said: “I’m really excited by the work we do with libraries. When you go to towns and cities across the country, as I do very often, you see libraries have great spots on the high street.

“Libraries have really strong relationships with their communities. For us in delivering Let’s Create, it’s about taking high-quality cultural activity to people’s doorsteps – libraries are absolutely at the heart of that and I’m very proud that we’ve got them in the portfolio. I think they do really exciting work.”

Read more about the Arts Council England’s NPO Awards

Other Devon organisations who’ve also had funding awards include Doorstep Arts, Exeter City of Literature, Exeter Northcott, Exeter Phoenix, Beaford Arts and The Plough Arts Centre.

Councillor Christine Carter, Cabinet Member for Corporate and Community Services at Torbay Council, said: “Libraries offer so much for the whole community. You can use their computers, take part in book clubs and encourage young children to socialise at toddler groups. They are at the heart of our communities and enable people of all ages to come together.

“This funding will allow libraries to take that a step further and become truly creative spaces, giving young people the opportunity to develop their skills and realise their potential. This will lead to new audiences of all ages and backgrounds visiting our libraries and seeing how they can enrich their lives.”

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Health, Communities and Equality, said: "Libraries in Devon have so much to offer their local communities, and the cultural events delivered by Libraries Unlimited have become an integral part of that. This latest funding award is extremely welcome and will ensure that libraries across the county can continue to provide an extensive programme of events for people to enjoy."

A network of 54 libraries in Devon and Torbay, and four Devon mobile libraries, are run by Libraries Unlimited, an independent staff and community-owned charity.

Join up for free online and follow Libraries Unlimited on Facebook.

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