With the installation of several little libraries in Clayton Heights, residents of this Surrey neighborhood are writing a new story about their fast-growing community.
On Family Day, February 18, Clayton Heights residents and staff from United Way of the Lower Mainland gathered at Katzie Elementary School to celebrate the launch of 7 little libraries in the neighbourhood. Libraries are hosted by local families, volunteer caretakers of the book nooks.
The libraries will serve a densely populated area, though not necessarily a closely-knit community – something residents hope will soon change.
Launch brings families together
This Family Day, after a by-book-donation pancake breakfast, Clayton Heights denizens gathered at one of the libraries close by. They stocked the library with donated books, declaring it open to the community. Guests then received a map indicating the locations of each new library, setting out on walking tours to have their “library passports” stamped by neighbours.
Staff from United Way of the Lower Mainland were on hand for the celebration, having supported residents as they designed and implemented the project. United Way began working in the Clayton Heights neighborhood in 2018. The plan to install libraries was hatched at community meetings on January 15th and 31st, with residents mobilizing quickly to make an impact.
More than a good read
Little libraries are popular in communities around the world, positive symbols for everything from recycling to family literacy. But little libraries are more than a book swap among neighbours.
“Little libraries become informal gathering spots for local families,” says Kim Winchell, Director of Social Impact at United Way of the Lower Mainland. “This is about so much more than reading – it’s about fostering community connections. This is especially important in Clayton, where residents have so much to offer each other, but so few places to do so.”
What’s more, while little libraries plant their roots in community, so too do local leaders, and new United Way programs for vulnerable kids.
In March, a United Way School’s Out program will launch at Katzie Elementary School. Long-time United Way partner Alexandra House will operate the drop-in program for kids in grades four to seven, four days a week. It will have a community service focus, empowering kids to give back locally.
Participants will have no shortage of inspiration, as teenagers in the United Way Future Leaders program will serve as role models and mentors to younger students. The program helps young adults gain leadership skills and practical work experience; it’s supported by the RBC Foundation.
Kim Winchell sees citizen projects like little libraries, and programs and services for local kids, working hand-in-hand in a neighbourhood:
“When programs and services are paired with the passion and actions of local citizens, we can create truly community-wide solutions to local challenges.”
A room of their own
Pace of development is a hot-button issue in several Surrey communities. Some citizens argue residential development has out-paced much-needed local infrastructure, leading to over-crowded schools and a lack of community amenities.
With the installment of the libraries, Clayton Heights residents mobilized to build infrastructure themselves – proving public space need not always require grande public plans.
“One of the first things I have done when moving to a new place is to make a library card,” says Rajinder Uppal, who moved to Clayton Heights three-and-a-half years ago from Calgary.
When she discovered Clayton did not yet have a library, Rajinder took action to be a part of a novel solution, volunteering as a little library steward.
She hopes new little libraries will become stops of interest for young families, dog-walkers, and older adults she often sees strolling in the area, “and in turn just make being out in the neighbourhood a positive experience.”
Collaborative carpentry, from unions to prisons
Construction of the libraries was a truly collaborative effort, engaging a diverse array of local volunteers. Libraries have been constructed and donated by inmates from the Surrey Pretrial Woodshop program, members of CUPE 402 (City of Surrey workers), Surrey Libraries and local high-school woodshop classes.
“We are really excited to partner on the little library project in Clayton” says Jeannie Kilby, president of CUPE local 402, member of United Way of the Lower Mainland Board of Directors, and co-chair of its Labour Cabinet, after meeting with people from the neighborhood to brainstorm ideas. “The guys in our shop were inspired by why people want to have these libraries, so each one is unique. We were able to put these together in a sustainable way with found materials left over from other city projects.”
Special thanks to CUPE Local 402, City of Surrey, Eye. Optometry, Clayton Dental Center, Hillcrest Village Shopping Cente, JLS photography, Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society, and the Surrey Pretrial wood shop program for contributing to the day! #claytoncommunity
To see pictures of the event, check out United Way’s facebook album.
-story and photos courtesy of United Way