From protest to pandemic and beyond – Friends of Stony Stratford Library did it!

How They Fought to Save An Important Facility

Rumours funding cuts from MK Council began to surface in Stony Stratford at the end of 2010.  This meant the precious library could be at risk of closure as part of the cost cutting exercise. The determined Friends of the Library group drew up a plan to fight any potential closure.

In fact, this plan very quickly gained an incredible traction throughout the town. By the end of January 2011, every library user was mobilised to withdraw their maximum permitted number of books. This direct protest against the proposed closure culminated in the astonishing spectacle of completely empty book shelves.

A video called ‘Wot No Books? The Saving of Stony Stratford Library’, was produced and you can see it on YouTube. That went viral. People from across the world sent messages of support and significantly, the library did not close.

Subsequent changes in the council means that all the Milton Keynes will remain open. Most importantly, not only are they open but a programme of refurbishment and updating began. Stony Stratford Library is open of the lucky ones undergoing improvements.

The Friends group (FOSSL) has also grown. The mission remains to support the interests of library users including creating dialogue between users, staff, Stony Stratford Town Council and Milton Keynes Council.

Through the lockdown and the pandemic FOSSL has continued to offer a programme of talks using the zoom online platform. After some initial trepidation this has proved to be popular with most members. They have enjoyed hearing about a wide range of topics ranging from ‘What is Cancer?’. This was a science-based talk, through to the intriguing story of the young American artist and printmaker Everett Ruess. This brave man disappeared into the American wilderness aged just 20.

Other talks on zoom include The Restoration of the Historic Water Gardens at Great Linford Manor  and a presentation on MK Gallery and the forthcoming exhibition of the work of Dame Laura Knight. To complete this year’s programme there will be a talk on the Ditchling artists’ community and their links to William Morris and the Kelmscot Press.

Next year it is hoped that live events will return to the newly refurbished and renovated library. The programme will cover topics like Textile Art; Gilbert and Sullivan’s intriguing relationship; West African Art; Welsh Art; and the life and music of Paul Robeson.

FOSSL volunteers are active in several areas in the town. For many years they have organised  School Reading Volunteers. As restrictions ease, they hope that they will be able to return to classrooms. The Schools’ Days in the Library will also be reinstated following reopening.

Volunteers have also been instrumental in extending the library opening hours for the last two years prior to the first lockdown. This enabled library users to continue using the Library from 9am every morning – Tuesday to Saturday, and also extending the closing time till 7pm on Thursdays. Once the library reopens then the volunteers will be keen to be back. While the library is closed it is hoped to operate a Click and Collect scheme once a week from York House, again staffed by volunteers.

If anyone reading this is interested in finding out more about any aspect of volunteering, or attending any of our events whether online or live, please contact me on fosslmk@gmail.com and I’ll be pleased to give you further information.

Kathy Luff

Friends of Stony Stratford Library Secretary