The Milton Keynes town that emptied its library of books in a remarkable bid to save it from closure

A incredible battle by a town to save its library from closure has ended in a resounding victory.

By Sally Murrer
Tuesday, 29th March 2022, 2:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 31st March 2022, 10:19 am

The revamped and refurbished Stony Stratford Library has this week re-opened its doors in a new chapter of delight.

The move follows a remarkable campaign that goes back as far as 2011, when MK Council first announced its cost-cutting plan to close down the premises.

Furious residents took matters in to their own hands and, following a social media campaign, promptly emptied the library of its entire stock of 16,000 books. Followed by media from all over the world, each member took out their maximum allocation of 15 books until the shelves were bare.

The ensuing video called ‘Wot No Books? The Saving of Stony Stratford Library’ promptly went viral on YouTube.

As a result, the literary protest ended in success for the organisers, Friends of Stony Stratford Library (FoSSL), with the council changing its mind and allowing the library to stay open.

Organisers of the protest said the support had been “staggering”, with books being checked out at a rate of almost 380 an hour.

FOSSL spokesman Emily Malleson said at the time: "A local resident mentioned the idea, maybe as a bit of a joke, but we thought it was a great idea....I put it on Facebook and emailed everyone I could think of and it's just gone absolutely mad.

A service was held at the library this morning

"I think it's a very simple but clever idea and it's given something that people can act on and make their voice heard. It shows it's such an important part of the community and well-used by everyone and not just for books - for DVDs, computers, spoken work.

In 2013, two years after the prtest, the facility was officially transferred to Stony Stratford Town Council under the Community Asset Transfer Programme. Then began the next stage of the battle – to refurbish the premises into a fresh new library room as well as a space suitable to serve the newly-victorious community.

“The town council had the forethought to see the building’s potential as a community facility as well as the library, with spaces that could be used for a wide range of activities,” said the archest for the scheme, resident, Robert de Grey.

“But it has been tough,” he admitted. “From start to the finish of Phase 1 of the project has taken about six years, involving the Town Council itself, its clerk, its consultants and finally its builders, all in partnership with Milton Keynes Council’s Library Service and FoSSL.”

The revamped library opened its doors again this week. Photo: Emily Malleson

Work started last year and the library was temporarily closed. On Saturday it was officially re-opened by the Mayor of Milton Keynes, Cllr Mohammed Khan, and townspeople joined in a weekend of celebratory events.

This morning (Tuesday) there was a special MK Libraries Service to welcome people back, and a packed programme of activities ranging from workshops to the Thursday morning children’s storytime sessions is to restart.

Mr de Grey said: “A public building has been retained at a time when Central Government is still encouraging public bodies to dispose of their assets.

“Stony Stratford Town Council had only been established for a few years when the proposal to close the library was made. Milton Keynes Council had just completed setting up parish and town councils across the borough, arrangements unique to Milton Keynes.”

The Mayor of MK pictured with Cllr Keith Tilley at the library re-opening. Photo: Emily Malleson

He said more work was programmed for the library in the future, including finishing the conversion of the rear wing with offices and ancillary spaces on the ground floor, and completion of the meeting room on the first floor.

"In replanning the building, every possible option was explored, including extending the existing building and complete demolition and rebuilding. In the end, it was decided to move the staircase from the centre of the children’s library, thus taking away a significant block on the use of both the ground and first floors.”

A third room was created on the first floor and all the spaces can now be used for a wide range of activities, with furniture being moved around as necessary, said Mr de Grey.

Bright primary colours were chosen to paint the inside of the building, and new furniture was purchased. Increased roof insulation and more efficient heaters have rendered the premises warmer and more energy efficient for the town council to run.

Meanwhile, the Friends group (FOSSL) has also grown and its mission remains to support the interests of library users including creating dialogue between users, staff, Stony Stratford Town Council and Milton Keynes Council.

Today Stony Stratford Town Council has thanked everybody who has taken part in the saving of the library saga.

The shelves were bare after the library protest in 2011

Town Clerk Lynne Compton said: “This has been a fantastic example of collaboration between the Town Council and its Principal Authority, Milton Keynes Council together with the help of local residents (on the 5-7 Church Street Working Group). The project would not have been possible without funding from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB), MKC S.106 Carbon Neutrality Funding and an anonymous donor.”

“The first-floor kitchenette was funded by the Friends of Stony Stratford Library and the Community Foundation. We are sure this will be a very welcome addition for those who hire the library out for talks and events.”

She added: “We wish to express our sincere thanks to all those involved.”

For a programme of events at the library, follow its Facebook page or see the Stony Stratford Town Council website.