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Thriving Milford Community Library is a community hub for village

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A VILLAGE library that could have closed following the withdrawal of council support last year has cemented its place in the heart of the community.

The facility at Milford village hall, in Park Road, is kept going with a hard working team of volunteers and boasts a loan collection of nearly 4,000 books.

It opens for only two hours four times a week, but also offers community activities, reading groups – and a choice of more than 100 jigsaws.

Milford Community Library volunteers Peter Ashwood, Jill Neill and Liz Everard
Milford Community Library volunteers Peter Ashwood, Jill Neill and Liz Everard

Things looked grim in 2015 when Hampshire County Council withdrew funding for paid staff, forcing volunteers to take on its operation.

A further blow came in 2020 when HCC stopped support altogether as part of £1.76m cuts in which several libraries, including Lyndhurst and Blackfield, shut.

But thanks to the efforts of organisers and the support of the village, the entirely independent branch is now described by volunteer co-ordinator Jill Neill as a “thriving hub of the community”.

Mrs Neill said: “Since we were able to reopen following the lockdown the village has been absolutely magnificent. We have been donated many wonderful books and every week we have a steady stream of new members coming along to join up.

“We have been run by a team of volunteers for the last six years so it was always our intention that if Hampshire County Council withdrew its support we would continue to offer a library service for Milford.”

So far almost 90 residents have signed up for free membership of the independent library, which offers four-week loans of books including large-print editions, a children’s section, audio books and magazines.

Mrs Neill said: “We have had wonderful support from our landlords Milford Village Association, which runs the village hall. They have been very understanding about our rent and have really supported us with our ambition to continue offering a library service for Milford.”

To cover the rent the library must raise around £40 a week from donations, book sales and events. Due to the pandemic this year they lost out on a stall at the Milford May fair – one of its biggest earners.

Volunteer Peter Ashwood said: “I have been helping out with the library for about six years, and it’s something that I really enjoyed.

“The volunteer rota is very well organised, so you don’t have to help out too often and if you ever had a problem with one of your shifts they have enough alternative cover help.

“Some of our users live alone, so visiting the library is a chance to get out of the house, have a chat and see a friendly face. It has become a wonderful community hub – especially for some people who might be at risk of isolation.”

The library recently gained a £3,100 grant from HCC for needs such as IT equipment, shelving, and book covers.

Cllr Edward Heron, HCC cabinet member for recreation and heritage, said: “Hampshire County Council has been actively supporting local groups that have come together to set up these new library offers.

“To date, we have provided £97,800 in grant money to support local volunteers to establish independent libraries at 10 locations.”

The library opens 2pm-4pm Monday and Tuesday, and 10am-midday Thursday and Friday. Contact 01590 644040 during opening hours.

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