Re-Writing the Rule Book on Libraries

Darren Taylor is a successful social entrepreneur who has repeatedly over the years developed his own visionary ideas but not for himself but for the benefit of others in the community.

Originally starting out, Darren ran a profitable business selling new lap tops and PC’s but saw the waste in people disregarding them and throwing away old ones. So, he eventually set up a shop to sell these but he soon realised that people “didn’t know how to use them”, so coming up with a solution, for free, he then set up internet café to show people how to use them. Due to the success of this venture after less than a year the internet café had twice outgrown its space. With a new contract under his belt to collect unwanted computers from central London he went back to Lewisham Council who then put him contact with a local housing association. He was soon introduced to an idea of taking on an ‘A’ listed building, that he immediately suggested that he could turn into library, but Darren thought the rent was very high. He came up with a visionary idea in converting the building by having computers/library/café in upper levels and a recycling project in the basement and the recycling project would fund the activities upstairs. Eventually it was agreed and because the housing association said “it would be good for their tenants” he was eventually given the building rent free.

At the official launch local council dignitaries were in attendance to see the unveiling of the old building being converted into a library and social hub. But two weeks prior to this, the local council had indicated the closer of five local libraries. At the official launch Darren had joked with the head of council libraries that he could run libraries. Darren was put on the spot and asked to put in writing for 5 tenders for 5 libraries and to show in writing how sustainable each library would be run. In reply Darren said, “Well I am dyslexic, but you will get in bullet pointed on a sheet of A4 paper”, which he did. Eventually Darren was to win the contracts to run each of the libraries. His belief is having libraries open for business is important for the community, which is why having community involvement and community responsibility is important and why social inclusion is important

Although it wasn’t until Darren was 29 when he was first tested for dyslexia, growing up he used to visit libraries as a child but didn’t touch any of the books and wasn’t really fascinated with books back then. For him it was a shame that none of the libraries encouraged him to read or to learn phonics. So, running libraries is very personal to him to encourage people to use libraries to get something to get some positive from visiting and using the services

Each library run by Darren is run by qualified paid staff and is independently run, but local council still supplies the books. Because each library is independent from the local council this means that there is less red tape and even in a position to be flexible in its approach to provide some free additional services such like running support lessons for Maths and English, something which local council run or traditional libraries may not be in the position to offer. When 90% of the money being generated from each library comes from running cafes and recycling computers this makes each library more sustainable compared to a council run library, this also means he can rent out available space for the likes of Maths and English classes.

Ross Duncan

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