How Leadership in One Community Inspires Others Across the Ocean
You never know who you are inspiring…and to quote Dr. Seuss, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” This article by Nick Cheshire is a tribute to the good folks of London, England and Athens, Georgia, whose leadership inspired big things in the UK.
Last year my wife Rebecca and I were living in the USA, first living in my wife’s home town in South Alabama and later in Athens, Georgia. I’m a Brit, but have always loved the United States, particularly the South.
In 1997 Rebecca and I met in Athens, Georgia. She had just finished university, or college as American readers would say, and I was on holiday (vacation) in Georgia. We met in October of that year and were married a year later at Athens’ Taylor-Grady House. Suffice to say the city of Athens has always meant a great deal to us both. We know the city well and have many friends still living in what has to be one of the South’s most culturally and artistically charged cities.
However, in 1997 there was at least one thing missing from the city that has, 17 years later, had a fantastic impact on our lives. Earlier this year, we discovered our first Little Free Library. Located in downtown Athens, I thought it was a wonderful idea. The simple concept of free books for communities to share really resonated in me.On our return to the UK and following lots of research we realised that there were very few little libraries on this side of the pond. We knew that people would love the concept and considered how we might be able to get involved.
Having spent several years living in East London, we decided to launch a Little Free Library project. We would build, decorate and install 12 Little Free Libraries in Walthamstow, East London. We came up with a simple design, found a fantastic carpenter to volunteer some time (that would be my father) and collaborated with some brilliant London artists to decorate each LFL with a unique and eye-catching design.
In 1997 there was at least one thing missing from the city that has, 17 years later, had a fantastic impact on our lives. Earlier this year, we discovered our first Little Free Library. Located in downtown Athens, I thought it was a wonderful idea. The simple concept of free books for communities to share really resonated in me.”
We then set about finding a wonderful array of book loving hosts to steward the Little Free Libraries (thank you all if you’re reading). Launched in May the end result is now London’s largest neighbourhood network of Little Free Libraries. The East London community of Walthamstow has more than embraced their new network of book sharing venues. We’ve been lucky to have had book donations from publisher Faber and Faber as well as support from local libraries to source the wonderful books. Now a few months on the LFLs are self-sustaining themselves with donations from the local community.
We then faced a problem. People across London and the UK were contacting us about our project and wanted to find out how they could get involved. We loved building the LFLs, we love seeing people enjoy them and the serious message of promoting literacy for people of all ages all contributed to us making a big decision. We decided to create a small charity here in the UK to build and install Little Free Libraries.
Our new charity, the Little Free Library Project UK aims to promote reading, art and community engagement. We build each LFL by hand at a small workshop in the South of England and engage local artists in the communities into which each LFL is installed to add a unique and engaging design. We encourage all of our hosts to register their Little Free Library with littlefreelibrary.org and add a charter sign. That way the community of LFLs here in the UK is joining a wider community of book sharing around the world.
So far we are concentrating on installing Little Free Libraries around London, but do have a few projects underway elsewhere in the UK. We’re working with other charities, local communities and private companies to create new projects.
When I moved to Athens in 1997 I didn’t know what a Little Free Library was. In 2014 I stumbled across my first one. Now I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than build and install Little Free Libraries. I had first visited Athens, Georgia in 1997 because I read a book about the band REM being from the city.
So, I guess Dr Seuss was right, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” I’m glad I went to Athens, Georgia.