Volunteers are building Little Free Libraries in Wester Hailes to bring books to kids in one of Edinburgh's most deprived areas
The Little Free Library initiative is dotted around Edinburgh with more than 10 outdoor weather-proof cabinets filled with books and run on ‘a free share community ethos’, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to anyone.
Little Free Libraries is a worldwide initiative aimed at enhancing community literature accessibility and libraries for adults and includes offerings in Stockbridge, Leith, Scotland Street and Shandon.
However, community volunteers in Wester Hailes are particularly keen to focus on improving their Little Library’ book distribution points for children to help in improve access to literature.
Nora Murray-Cavanagh, who runs a little free library project in Shandon located on Harrison Park, came up with the idea as a result of working as a GP at Wester Hailes Practice where she spotted a need for children’s literature in the community.
Nora said: “The idea of putting them in Wester Hailes, in one of the most deprived areas of Scotland, is to get books out to homes there to get literature into kids’ hands.
"We know that childhood literacy is so strongly associated with health and wealth outcomes in later life so for me being involved in it so part and parcel of my work as a GP.
“Part of the idea is that they run themselves, so as a steward I just keep an eye on them to ensure they are not being vandalised but generally the community look after it.”
Two library distribution points are currently on the go in Wester Hailes: one near Clovenstone Community Centre and Primary School and one outside the Whale Arts Agency on Westburn Grove.
Both libraries are fully stocked with new books thanks to a generous donation from the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
The books are aimed from birth up to primary one and two - however, another positive of the project was that a Polish family took children’s books out of the Clovenstone library to learn English.
“It was lovely to see”, said Nora, “as people who might not yet know how to get access to other places such as Council-run libraries, were able to use our books and they were accessible.”
Whale Arts are the Wester Hailes organisation involved in decorating and organising the boxes and they said that they currently have two boxes waiting to be distributed into the community.
Michael Bowdidge from Whale Arts said: “Receiving such a generous donation of books from the Edinburgh International Book Festival gave our Little Free Libraries programme a massive boost - it was so nice to be able to fill them with new books for a change - it makes such a difference to users of the service, who are used to seeing second-hand and pre-loved books on the shelves.
“Not only is it great for them to be able to read the latest books, but just the fact of having access to such nice new books give the children a real lift - it really makes them feel valued and cared about. Lovely choice of titles too - something for everyone!"
With thanks to the Edinburgh Tool Library - who have already constructed around 10 little libraries for Edinburgh neighbourhoods - more are currently in the works.
Chris Hellawell from the Tool Library said: “It’s quite a nice little project as we have a trainee programme for young people facing barriers to employment so it’s either them or our volunteers who build them and we go and install them on site and at the moment it’s particularly appreciated.
“We try and use reclaimed timber and we’ve done a variety - for example there’s one in town with a little garden on its roof.
“The ones for the kids in Wester Hailes are very vibrant and colourful - we used the base coat of blue and the idea was for Whale Arts to come in and then make them all jazzy with different colours.”
During lockdown, Guy Roberts - who came through the Tool’s trainee programme - built two ‘smurf-blue’ boxes for Wester Hailes with one now installed at Clovenstone.
After construction is done, Whale Arts then come in to add artistic finishing touches.
There was also a ‘soup can-themed’ library in Murrayburn decorated by Whale Arts for their Soup Garden.
This was sadly vandalised but GP Nora is hopeful they will be able to restore it.
Nora said: “People’s initial thoughts - like someone posted, ‘Oh, that’s just grade A kindling’ on Facebook - are what can go wrong but really my question is what can go right?
”This could make our community so much more joined together and equal and it’s eco-friendly!”
In the past, GP Nora also teamed up with Holy Trinity Church for ‘book packs’ to go with the food parcels the church was distributing in Wester Hailes.
For anyone who is afraid of transmitting the virus, doctor Nora told us what she does to limit the spread when book borrowing.
She said: “If we’re getting anything from the library, we leave it in a bag in the hall for a few days and then take it out and wash our hands.
"Overall the risk is so minimal and really what we are trying to think about in lockdown is how do we get people through this with some sort of intact mental health and so this is a socially distanced form of community building.
"People can do things together - donate books and borrow books and read - but they don’t need to be in the same room so in that way it’s perfectly suited for these very unusual times.”
The Project has seen a lot of support from members of the public sending in books and Scottish Publisher Floris Books sent a box of second hand children books to support the Wester Hailes project.
Nora added: “In Edinburgh especially there’s a real surplus of children’s books and families so people don’t know what to do with them and they really want to help and do useful things but they don't all go to charity shops and neighbours.
“It’s amazing how many people are keen to donate.”
Edinburgh Tool Library are currently taking orders for people who want a Little Free Library in their community - with three or four in the pipeline for Leith, Portobello and Corstorphine - and are urging people to get in contact via email on [email protected].