Wendy and Margaret


Wendy Jones in conversation with
Margaret Adjaye

Margaret Adjaye is the director of Upper Norwood Library Hub, which provides a wealth of services for the community in Crystal Palace, south London. Wendy Jones is a writer and journalist. They met three years ago when Margaret recruited Wendy as a volunteer teaching English to speakers of other languages (ESOL).

Note 1: March-May

Margaret picks up the phone, breathless. She’s been exercising with her son. Planks. Started with 20 seconds. Now a minute. The target is five.

There’s a strong bond with her three kids. They are each other’s lives. Locked down, they work, study, cook. She’s baking bread. Sweet African bread.

Photo by: Jacob Sacks-Jones

But she worries about the library. The library that’s more than a library. A community hub. Reinvented, rescued from closure four years ago. Four years of sleepless nights to make it sustainable. So much planned. Will it all disappear?

Library before lockdown

The people they helped – they’re reaching some online. But those who need them the most? Elderly people who came in for a chat, a tea, digital inclusion classes. Homeless people who came in out of the cold. ESOL learners who came to improve their English. Margaret worries about the voluntary organisations led by disabled people, BAME, LGBT, many struggling as grants are diverted to Covid causes.

Their stories tug the heartstrings. She worries for them all.

Note 2: May-July

Margaret’s exercise regime continues. Now it’s long walks. Very long walks. Eight miles last weekend, with her son. Plus twice-weekly jogs. She’s lost some weight. She’s learnt to love herself again.

But the daily busy-ness is still there. Family. Encouraging her youngest to complete the tasks set by his school online. Baking. Perhaps try croissants? Calls to her brother in the US. The planned visit cancelled. She misses him a lot.

And work. Volunteering keeps the library afloat, all doing their best to sustain people online. But not everyone has smart phones and computers. It’s a worry.

Lockdown has allowed us to reflect on life, to think about how we consume things, how we treat other people, what we value. Nature’s saying you guys need to slow down.

Yet we can’t afford to slow down. Covid has highlighted serious socio-economic failings. Margaret understands why black lives matter. She worked in equality and diversity, in the NHS, in education. Racism is not new. Her son has been stopped in the past. Margaret hopes young people will come through this as leaders. Maybe they’ll form a movement to wake up their parents, to change businesses, the police, even politicians and the way they make decisions.

A very strong hope.

Note 3: July-August

By August, some activities have started again at the library hub. Little Brushstrokes, an art camp for kids, and the West End Theatre Camp, run by an experienced actor. Full social distancing, places filling quickly, parents keen for some respite.

Exercise classes are starting too. And a select and collect service for books. By appointment only. Temperature taking, masks, sanitiser, intensive cleaning. There’s click and collect for the Library of Things, where you can borrow stuff, a sewing machine, a wallpaper stripper.

But they can’t yet open for vulnerable people, those who relied on the library for company and shelter. One woman rings the bell hoping to be let in, another sits in the coffee place across the road. Another community library nearby runs a befriending service. Arrange a chat with someone outside your gate. Fifteen minutes can make such a difference.

That’s one thing about lockdown – people have been friendly. They’ve nodded and said good morning. Strange, no-one’s used to that in London.

Meanwhile Black Lives Matter has gone a bit quieter. But the issues haven’t gone away. It’ll be interesting to see what the unemployment figures reveal about diversity. 

The future is so uncertain. When will the library fully re-open? No-one knows. There may be a second wave. Everything’s unpredictable. But Margaret presses on applying for funds. The library must survive.

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