South Reading Community Hub, Matthew Breadman, Library Branch Manager
Matthew has worked for the library service for over 20 years. He has been the branch manager in South Reading for the last two years and was involved in the setup of the new library location at the South Reading Community Hub from a very an early stage.
Although Matt felt it would be a good move for the library, he was aware there were reservations from the local community, especially since the old library had been in the same spot since 1935. However, following the launch of the library’s new space at the hub, Matt says from the outset the response to the new library location has been incredibly positive from old and young library users alike.
Since the move in June 2018, the new library has gone from strength to strength – it has increased footfall by 40%, with many people who are initially visiting other areas of the hub – such as the café, nursery or Children’s Centre, then coming into the library – so they now see people who might not have otherwise entered the library.
Matt believes one of the best aspects of the hub is that it offers a focal point for the whole community, bringing together a diverse range of services from the nursery and children’s centre, to community groups, New Directions adult learning classes and the hub café, run by dedicated community volunteers. He says: “The shared space works really well and the different organisations within the hub are incredibly supportive of each other – we often come together to generate ideas and co-run events.”
For example, Reading Community Welfare Rights Unit, a small a charity providing free, independent and confidential advice on all welfare benefit matters, works from the office next to the library. A team of five, they were initially finding it a challenge to see their clients in the space they had access to, but now by working in partnership with the library, they utilise the library space when it is closed to the public, which gives the group more scope to see its clients and also means the library space is being used to help residents out of hours.
Karen Giles, Reading Community Welfare Rights Manager, said: “From day one of joining the hub we were made to feel welcome. Matthew in the library has also been very helpful and most of us have joined the library, which is a very welcoming place – modern, light and comfortable, with lots of activities for young children. The hub café is also a real bonus, providing tasty food and good coffee at very reasonable prices, and is run by tremendous people who do a fantastic job. From what I see, the hub is an essential part of the local community and it is good to see the local people use it.”
The library works closely with the nursery based in part of the hub and the Children’s Centre – both groups pop down with the children to borrow books for projects and often join in with the library Rhymetimes. The library also plays host to a lively ‘Connect and Play’ group on a Tuesday, set up and run by a group of local mums.
Connect & Play is a toddler group which was set to serve local families in south Reading. Elli Walker, who helped set up the group about 18 months ago, said: “We are a volunteer-run group made up of mums from the area. It has been fantastic seeing how our group has grown over time and how the Hub has helped facilitate more links with different organisations that operate in the space. For example, the library has very kindly allowed us to use the children’s section for our group every Tuesday morning, and the Children’s Centre has made their toys and other resources available to us free of charge. This has meant we no longer need to bring lots of resources from home. Since our group runs at the same time as the Bumps and Babes (0-1) group at the Children’s Centre we’ve also been able to refer people back to them if they have very little ones.”
There are a number of community groups working out of the hub who also make full use of the library, for example, the Kingsley Organisation, a group supporting adults with physical and learning difficulties, who have particularly enjoyed joining in with craft activities at the library and the Reading Stroke Association, who run a support group at the Hub on the the first and third Thursday mornings each month.
The Children Centre’s Tiny Talkers group sees families attending the weekly session at the Children’s Centre before moving onto the library to encourage speech, language and early literacy skills for children.
Matt is currently working with Joel in the Children’s Centre to plan some events this summer, including a dinosaur themed day in August. Matt says: “The great thing about working with the other areas of the hub is being able to spread out and move people around the building, increasing the numbers of people we can cater for. Events across the site will work well for everyone. We can also link up with Trisha in the café and send them for a free drink and snack for kids.”
Matt says one of the best aspects of his job is seeing the benefit the library brings to local families. “I love seeing the children who come week after week to the popular play groups and free Rhymetimes, and the confidence it builds in them.” Matt sees just how important these groups are for local parents, as a way of connecting with others. “Parenting can be lonely in the early years. The other week we had a mum come to Rhymetime with her young child having recently moved to Reading from Romania. She didn’t know anyone so I encouraged her to stay for the Connect and Play group and it was great to see her getting to know the other parents and by the end swapping numbers.”
View highlights from the 1st Year Anniversary Celebration here: