Case study

Community library: Upperthorpe, Sheffield

Overview of a community library from the perspective of the community

Upperthorpe library: the Zest centre. Photo credit: Julia Chandler/Libraries Taskforce

Upperthorpe library: the Zest centre. Photo credit: Julia Chandler/Libraries Taskforce

Community library model and governance

Upperthorpe library is an associate library managed by Zest, a community development trust working to promote regeneration and social inclusion. They work predominantly in the Netherthorpe, Upperthorpe and Langsett areas of Sheffield.

The library is based in Zest’s Healthy Living Centre which is a vibrant, community-led centre. It offers a holistic approach for health improvement of local people, ensuring social inclusion, reducing health inequalities, and increasing the use of health, education, leisure and recreational facilities. In addition to the library, the centre includes a public swimming pool, a mixed gym and a women’s only gym, a café, meeting rooms and offices.

It’s in a diverse area which includes sizeable populations from Yemen and Somalia; Arabic is the main language spoken with English as a second language.

Agreement with the local authority / funding

Upperthorpe library is an associate library. It had a pre-existing relationship with the local authority relating to the operation of the leisure facilities. The terms of the library agreement include:

  • a time limited funding programme (to enable self-sustainable groups by 2017), bids can be up to the level of the library building running costs (from the 2013/14 budget)
  • access to maintenance and training for the Library Management System (LMS), although a stripped down version, costs for this are taken from the funding programme
  • training programmes in running volunteer / charity organisations
  • stock and stock circulation which is the property of the council whilst libraries retain the LMS and share the library catalogue
  • a delivery service
  • use of Radio-frequency IDentification for customer self service: the technology which allows you to identify and track books on self-service machines
  • access to the people’s network service, computers, internet access, printer support and maintenance
  • G4S cash collection services

No new books will be purchased. Upperthorpe also get advice, guidance and support from a Volunteer Coordinator and some other library support services. This package includes:

  • marketing and promotion to help recruit volunteers
  • setting up a volunteer register of library volunteers
  • access to a training programme for volunteers (safeguarding, equalities, health and safety and confidentiality)
  • quarterly forum to share best practice
  • information and support to make links with council and other providers such as public health

Role of the community (Zest)

Zest holds a long lease on the buildings. The facilities are:

  • a library
  • meeting rooms and office for rent
  • health, employment and advice services
  • a swimming pool
  • a mixed gym and a women’s only gym
  • a café

Zest are responsible for the building maintenance, insurance and health and safety. They also recruit train and manage volunteers with help from the support coordinator.

A manager provides around 12 hours a week of support to the library and another paid member of staff gives 8 hours a week of their time to the library. Their role includes training volunteers and carrying out library tasks.


Zest started with 7 volunteers which has now increased to 30. Over 50 people have volunteered over the past 18 months. Volunteers are from a variety of backgrounds including people who have English as a second language, are retired and unemployed as well as those in work. 80% of the volunteers are from the local area. The majority of the team are female and age 35 plus. There have been 2 Duke of Edinburgh students. There are at least 2 volunteers per shift. Volunteers take a lead role in:

  • training new volunteers
  • managing book stock
  • day to day library functions including shelving, book reserves and handling cash
  • planning any changes to the library
  • events

Opening hours

As the library is an integrated part of the facility it is open for 7 days a week for a total of 87.5 hours.

Customers can use the self issue system in the library. Book borrowing is down but children’s book issues are not decreasing at the same rate as adult loans. As the predominant languages spoken are Arabic and Urdu, a new collection of ESOL books and an Arabic language health book collection was purchased (with the help of some local funding) to attract additional adult issues.

The library has the highest IT usage of any library in the city, with the exception of Sheffield’s central library.

Events and activities

Programmes include using the 8 computers in the IT suite to provide access to acquiring digital skills through Learn My Way and opportunities to learn English using UK Online’s English My Way. Two courses are currently running as well as evening support from a volunteer ‘Digital champion’.

School visits are organised: Netherthorpe school brings a different class to the library each week and Bethany school also brings children for library visits. During the class visits a volunteer reads a story and each child takes a book home. The library has a copy of all the children’s library cards to assist this process. A baby weigh in takes place in the children’s library area and the children’s centre runs Shake Rattle and Sing for mothers and toddlers.

Zest and volunteers run a variety of sessions for adults and children in the library space.

Regular activities include:

  • women’s craft group - Mondays 10.30am-12 noon
  • women’s conversation group - Tuesday 10am-12 noon
  • women’s sewing group - Tuesday 12 noon-2pm
  • shake, rattle and sing - Wednesday 10.30am-11.30am
  • children’s reading group - Thursday 4pm-5pm
  • reading group, 2nd Monday in the month - 6pm-7pm
  • homework zone club every Friday after school 3.30pm-5pm
  • events for children during school holidays

The library takes part in the Summer Reading Challenge, World Book Day and a reading group is organised by a Zest member of staff.

Lessons learnt / outcomes

Zest now has a Children’s Literacy Improvement Manager whose role is to develop both the homework club and reading group. They are making links with local schools, obtaining and creating resources and developing the volunteer base for both groups. On average 15 children attend.

A black and ethnic minority (BME) health worker has been working with women in the community and encouraging them to join the centre facilities including the library.

Zest’s play and activities officer and health team have developed projects, weekly sessions and events, using the library space. The space is used as a community hub, a space for people to meet and is an integral part of the centre.

Maintaining and supporting a team of volunteers takes a great deal of time and effort. Zest’s youth and communities manager manages the project and is able to provide this time.

The library has provided a positive volunteering opportunity for the community and a place where everyone can be involved. It has provided work experience, English language practice as well as a social opportunity for a variety of people. Zest is very proud of the volunteer team.

Challenges / future plans

Challenges include:

  • financial pressures to maintain the library, it will be difficult if the local authority reduce or cut their contribution to the running costs
  • the continuing cycle of volunteers, ensuring that there are trained volunteers are on shift
  • obtaining funding to continue having a Zest Youth and Communities Manager which develops the volunteer base

Ageing book stock means that many books are irrelevant or not borrowed. Zest has obtained small grants and donations to buy new stock and will continue to explore this avenue.

There are plans to refurbish the children’s library working with a group of students who will create a mural and student architects who are redesigning the space There are also plans to work with parents to improve their English while activities are provided for the children.

For further information see the Zest community library website

Published 14 April 2016