Pre-emptive outdoor library project takes hold

Stopsley outdoor Library – a project for the new era

Tracee Cossey

In the wake of possible government plans to cut library services, Stopsley Library staff have recently come up with a unique twist on how to promote theirs. As part of the ‘Big Wild Read’, a summer reading challenge in 2008, staff at the library developed their garden by planting a small bed with wild flowers which was occasionally used to tell stories. From this emerged the plan of turning it into a physical reading space.

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The garden project was funded through Generations Together, one of the twelve pilot projects across the country that aims to bring younger and older people together through a range of projects, from filmmaking to gardening.  In Luton, Generations Together is led by Luton Culture on behalf of Luton Borough Council.  As part of Luton Culture, Luton Libraries have contributed to the funding of Stopsley Library Reading Garden.

Aaron, a pupil studying construction at Stopsley High School, inspired his fellow pupils and their teacher to design and build a series of raised beds for the garden.  At three different heights, they make the plants accessible to everyone, and look great too.  Put together, their time and the materials they have used are a considerable donation.

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Around 50 children have been involved in the project from inception, from assisting with the design and planting, to hunting for minibeasts to entering a radish growing competition.With young people, older people and those in-between added in, around 130 people to date have either volunteered their time or taken part in an activity in the garden. The garden doubles the size of the library, with over twenty places to sit and read.

There are three areas in the garden, each based on a book theme and designed with a different generation in mind. The first area is based on passages in Jane Austen’s books, with comfy wooden seating, a brick bench and picnic table. The two patio areas in the first area are accessible and surrounded by climbing plants; this is a great place to sit and read. The second area incorporates an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme, where there are roses and lots of room to play.  The caterpillar from the stories has transformed into a butterfly play sculpture and a there is a story circle too.The last area is inspired by gothic fiction that includes Stephanie Meyer’s well-known ‘Twilight’ series.  Hidden around a corner are three giant tractor tyres, planted with spiky and dark foliage.

The garden was officially opened to the public by the Mayor on Saturday 17 July 2010, to coincide with the start of this year’s Summer Reading Challenge – ‘Space Hop’. Stopsley Outdoor Reading Library is the only library in Luton that has a green space that can accommodate an outdoor library.

Anna Simmons, Senior Librarian for Luton Culture said: “Now officially open, there are still lots of opportunities to take part in the garden and in the wider Generations Together project.  A Mad Hatter’s Tea Party marked the first efforts to establish a friends’ group and a mailing list for an electronic and print newsletter is currently being compiled.



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