Fresh Horizons is a social enterprise based in Huddersfield which acts as community anchor with a focus on skills development and the creation of sustainable employment opportunities in deprived neighbourhoods. Through bringing innovation to libraries, such as incentivising young people to access and increase active borrowing through embedding community cinema in their library, it has reversed the trend in library lending in Deighton – increasing lending by 13% and active readers by 38% in one year alone. Fresh Horizons now seeks to introduce further innovations to its library by tapping into interest amongst young people in online gaming to establish a hack/maker space. After witnessing first-hand the 360,000 young people attending Gamescom in Cologne, officers believe that there are virtual communities in neighbourhoods across the world seeking to convert their physically solitary gaming experience into ‘real world’ events where they can meet, compete, trade, buy, sell and share knowledge and know-how.
Fresh Horizons is a community enterprise based in a deprived residential area two miles from the centre of Huddersfield; the local Super Output Area is ranked in the bottom 3% in the country. Fresh Horizons acts as a community anchor organisation in an urban environment with a diverse but cohesive community of white, Afro-Caribbean and Pakistani residents. Its community-led library sits within a managed multi-agency building providing childcare, library and information services, community cinema, housing advice, a base for community policing team, health visitors, a Sure Start team (including family support workers), and a base for community activity and events. The local area has a tradition in textiles and manufacturing but this has now largely declined, and there is a reliance on jobs in nearby Huddersfield and other surrounding towns.
Initially, Fresh Horizons sought to explore the feasibility of establishing a library-hack-makerspace in Deighton. To test local interest, representatives used their informal community networks to explore what would attract the community to get involved at a dedicated Open Day. The Open Day resulted in the adoption of a project theme – Your Library, Your Choice – and an event inviting local residents to say how they might use the library, not just as a place to learn from books and ICT, but also as a space to share local knowledge through teaching and learning from one other on a peer-to-peer basis with a focus upon sewing, painting and puppet making. At the subsequent event, there were activities arranged for the whole family to get involved with – including workshops about nail art, soft toy making, cake decoration and some fun arts and crafts with people over 60 keen to participate.
The organisers asked event attendees to tell them what activity they would use the library space for if they could use it for any purpose, and the responses solicited were as follows: Arts & Crafts (13); Nail Art (8); Beauty (2); Baking (5); Cooking (1); Family activities (6); Activities for older people (1); Performing Arts (2); and Sewing (1). Notably, 12 participants felt they had skills that they would be prepared to share with others at future events including Art & Design, Cooking, Henna, Sewing, Knitting, Face painting, Hand embroidery, Cheer leading, Folk and Ballroom Dancing.
The organisers ran a concurrent project concerned with improving confidence and employability. Specifically, they engaged local people to develop their writing and editing skills. They were also eager to create a product which could be sold by the library in relation to the same. By engaging residents in bespoke workshops, participants chose ‘Proud’ as the theme of the book – with people writing about what makes them proud; this included everything from their children and wider families (mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands). People also wrote about the Chestnut Centre (Fresh Horizons’ multi-purpose building), their own connections to places and people, as well as dramatic moments in their lives.
Many participants had no expectation that their work would be published as part of a book. They were working outside their comfort zone, as many participants did not like writing when they were at school. Nonetheless, they persisted. One man said, ‘I used to hate writing when I was at school. Now after the Book of Proud, I just can’t stop!’ And the end result is a book with wonderful photos of those who took part, edited by a local woman with no previous experience of editing. The completed book includes stories and poems, some very funny and some sad, and brings together many of the memories and values that local people share and which underpin their community.
The published book is now on sale at the Library and more books are likely to follow, with a view to revealing more of the community’s creative talents, such that the organisation plans to evaluate whether a viable business model can be established in future could generate both financial and social outcomes. This chimes with calls for libraries to become platforms to facilitate self-publishing in a fairly traditional sense. However, in addition, nurturing improved confidence, a willingness to return to learning and employability could generate additional income for the Fresh Horizons and its library from public sector commissioners.
Progress to Date
This is activity that Fresh Horizons staff would wish to explore further in developing a library-hack-makerspace, whereby people with the right level of support can unleash hidden talents and develop new skills, with the potential to generate income from mutually beneficial sales and through funding generated by the social impact of the process of creation. Going forward, then, Fresh Horizons is keen to establish a library-hack-makerspace through regular structured events – widening the range of activities on offer and developing MakerBoxes and MakerKits as per the Waiting Room. Project Staff have begun to create a Maker Directory – approaching local people and businesses in Deighton and Huddersfield via its established networks, in the first instance.
Approximately 60 people from the local community in Deighton attended an Open Day on Saturday 29th March 2014, some of whom were existing library users, and the aim is to invite them to participate in a variety of activities as “tasters” of potential Maker Events in the future. A number of attendees have since come forward to offer their support as local makers/talented people to help populate a series of events as a replication of the Waiting Room “Maker Wednesday” programme. It is envisaged that the types of activities best suited to the space(s) and to the local community will be a variety of experiential education events linked to the strong musical culture, information needs of parents, as well as simple construction skills development activities led by local businesses and residents. Fresh Horizons is also building links with a local app developer group with a view to hosting a hackathon that focuses on producing an app that local residents can use to get digital information about services and events for their children. They aspire to setting up a Gaming Club for teenagers at some stage in the future.
Allocation of a dedicated space within the library and curation of the follow-up maker events is now the focus at Fresh Horizons. A team of volunteers from the first Open Day is emerging to help with arrangement and delivery of the events. Identifying Deighton-based makers, some of whom operate from home, proved difficult at first. However, a number of talented local makers came forward during the Open Day and this is now assisting with the population of a local Maker Directory and creating partnerships with local businesses. The main obstacles to setting up the library hack-maker space have included the lack of staff time and ‘investment to innovate’ beyond the initial flurry of activity, but this will hopefully be mitigated by volunteer support from the local community akin to the set-up at the Waiting Room going forward.