Helen Tremaine from City of London Libraries explains their project which promotes the value of libraries in overcoming barriers within communities.
The Bumping Spaces project, a response to the Engaging Libraries initiative, aims to develop sites that encourage the chance of informal interaction. It was initially conceived on the back of a media article about the unique social context of public libraries. The article highlighted public libraries as spaces where valuable, serendipitous interactions can happen across demographic divides.
This resonated with Dr Roger Green’s research on social isolation in the City of London and his recommendation of ‘Bumping Spaces’ as an antidote. Seeing this connection, we devised the project with the aim of engaging the local community with his research and using their responses to help create bumping spaces. We wanted to understand the barriers to people interacting and feeling a part of their community and get them thinking about how they might overcome that in fun, playful ways.
We bagged ourselves an excellent partner, Made by Play, experienced in and passionate about community projects and we began work just before Christmas 2019. Then the pandemic hit and the project was halted as we adjusted to the new circumstances. The engagement we had planned involved going out into the community to visit local groups, the community centre, shops, talking to people in the library and putting up promotion around the area as well as inviting people to workshops held in the library. Covid restrictions made this impossible but after much consideration we decided we might still be able to go ahead as there was likely to be an increased need and interest in people thinking about isolation and community and it might provide a positive focus through difficult times.
We had to adapt the engagement to reaching people locked in their homes. We were assisted in this by local community representatives and volunteers who were very supportive of the project and eager to help. We hand delivered booklets explaining the project to local residents, inviting them to participate by Zoom and email. We offered telephone and letter participation too as we didn’t want to exclude those not online. We gathered data from the correspondence, a survey and Zoom workshops. The responses were overwhelmingly positive.
The next stage of the project is to display installations around the community that will encourage playful interaction (compliant with Covid restrictions) whilst informing the public about the project. Using eye catching and attractive displays, we’ll exhibit quotes from locals on their views on community and isolation to prompt reflection on social isolation and encourage conversation. In some cases this will include adding or contributing to the display – for example by adding a photo or a pin on a map.
As people tentatively take steps to return to normal life, we hope the project will serve to root the library presence in the community and to encourage more people to think of us as their space and a bumping space. Thinking to a future when all restrictions are lifted, we can use our findings to facilitate bumping spaces in the library and possibly hold an exhibition of the project and the community interactions with it. Beyond the project, we’ve made connections with people who would like to act as ‘community champions’ by working with us to continue with community engagement activities, taking advantage of the library resources, space and reputation as a trusted community presence.
City of London Libraries’ Bumping Spaces project is supported by the Engaging Libraries programme which is run in partnership by Carnegie UK Trust, Wellcome and the Wolfson Foundation.