In September 2018 Redhill Library began to hold monthly coffee mornings. The formula was simple: free entry, small charge for refreshment, guest speaker and conversation about a local organisation or service. Simple but successful. This blog is about the popularity of the mornings and the ideas of the woman whose enthusiasm made them happen.
At Citizens Advice Reigate & Banstead we share the values and aims of the library service. We’re pleased to help promote the Redhill coffee mornings and value the support of all the borough’s libraries in our information campaigns.
More and more of us are seeing public libraries with fresh eyes. They still offer individuals books, information and entertainment. But now they also have hundreds of opportunities to meet, learn and enjoy with others. And the old rules still apply: *Activities open to all* *Everyone can belong*.
The person behind the Redhill success story is Library full-time staff member, Ghazala Hayat. It’s her belief that libraries can be a unique force for good if they have a strong presence in their communities.
With experience in recent years at Wimbledon, Dorking, Banstead and Ewell, Ghazala has seen a range of library-community relationships. “They can be very different but what they all share is a need to reach out to local populations and involve local organisations.” Before Redhill, she worked as ‘Community-led Services Officer’ advising and supporting 10 Surrey Community Libraries – they’re run by volunteers whose contribution to public libraries is growing fast everywhere.
Social and educational
At Wimbledon she was appointed Events Coordinator on top of her day-job as a supervisor. She persuaded management to approve a proposal for themed Coffee Mornings and it’s no exaggeration to say the idea took off. The Mornings became very popular. Gradually, all Merton’s libraries joined in with similar events. Ghazala emphasises a dual purpose: “The coffee talks help meet educational as well as social needs in the community”.
Ghazala’s own enthusiasm is a big part of this story. “A people person” by her own description, at school in Pakistan she was always the first to volunteer for plays, sports and events. At work, she’s looked to balance desk work with helping library users directly.
Ghazala’s ability to get people to share her vision and volunteer their time has been important. In Redhill, for example, coffee mornings are not the only fruit of her creativity. There’s a thriving English as Second Language group with members from countries as far apart as Germany, Poland, Iraq, and Afghanistan; it’s made possible by 4 volunteer teachers, one a retired headmistress. On Saturday mornings, the library hosts a Meditation Class also run by volunteers.
The participation of local organisations is crucial to getting the conversations going. Keeping the Redhill drinkers turning up have been speakers from the Alzheimer’s Society and Ambulance Service to South Nutfield Choral Society and the Woldingham Players. To see the variety check our 2018/19 Coffee Mornings.
A full and exciting programme is booked to the end of 2020. We’re already looking forward to discussions of Winston Churchill at Chartwell ( 5 Feb) and the National Trust at Reigate (4 March).
Ghazala points to evidence that people really value these occasions. “They start looking forward to coming. Our regular attendance has been 30+ and there were over 50 at the Christmas Party. People want opportunities to meet and talk in relaxed circumstances and the library is the ideal place. There’s a friendly ‘club’ atmosphere but nothing formal. Everyone who attends is automatically a member!”