Saturday, 19 January 2013

A Plea for Seven Stories - Lucy Coats

This may be the most important blogpost I've written for a long time, and here's why.

Last November, Arts Council England granted Seven Stories in Newcastle a new name - the National Centre for Children's Books.  If you are interested in children's books, but don't know about Seven Stories yet, you probably should. Its archive in Gateshead is a veritable treasure trove of original manuscripts, illustrations and memorabilia from some of the best-loved and most famous names in children's literature, and is considered of national importance.  The Centre itself (which I visited recently, and plan to do so again in March) is a vibrant space set by the little trickle of river which is the Ouseburn, full of wonderful exhibitions, creative play space, the best bookshop I've been in for years, children's laughter, enthusiastic and knowledgable staff and volunteers, and so much more.  I can't remember when I've been more impressed with a place. It is somewhere children can learn about books, get involved with projects, meet authors and illustrators - but most of all have a fantastic and memorable time - and that's just a small part of it.

It was therefore with some shock that I found out at the beginning of this week that Newcastle City Council (NCC) are proposing to withdraw 100% of funding from this amazing resource.  Just stop and think about that for a moment.  I'll say it again, and even write it in big bold red letters.  
100% Funding Cut 
Yep. You really did read that right.

Now, personally, I think that's a disgrace, especially coupled with the fact that the same NCC want to close ten of their city's eighteen libraries.  What Seven Stories do is, quite literally, irreplaceable. The withdrawal of this funding would mean they lose 13% of their entire income.  That, in real terms, means that they'd lose the ability to carry on with their very important outreach and learning work - work that benefits disadvantaged families, parents and children who might otherwise never even be touched by the world of reading.  

While Seven Stories has had some generous benefactors in the past, and is currently a member of the Arts Council's Catalyst fund (which means that any donations they receive from the general public are matched), 13% of income is a still a significant amount to lose. If you agree with me, please click on THIS LINK, which will take you to the Seven Stories protest page where you can find information on how to help.  It might be your letter or email which makes the difference, so PLEASE, if you can find the time to write to NCC, and also to spread the word via social media, then I know that Seven Stories will be very grateful.
As for NCC, I have this to say to them (again in big shouty red letters in case they miss the point):

"I understand that you need to make cuts, but if you dismiss and disregard the cultural life of your city by slashing much of its arts budget to the bone (in particular Seven Stories and your libraries), you risk disenfranchising and disinheriting both the children of today and the children of the future. Children need books for learning, to inspire their minds and to give them a better understanding of the world they live in. Don't put that at risk - please, please think again."


Sue Bursztynski said...

I have heard about this. Would the council be at all interested in an email from the other side of the world? Perhaps as I'm a children's writer myself? Or would they say,"Oh, well, she would say that, wouldn't she?"

michelle lovric said...

Lucy, thank you for telling us about this. I followed the link you gave and sent an email letter. It is very easy, everyone, as they have prepared a template letter for you with all the technical stuff done. You just have to personalise it.

I said 'Newcastle has painstakingly won the reputation for being a cultural centre. Please, please don’t dumb it down. A reputation is the hardest thing to recover. Don’t be the council that destroys the literary legacy of the city. '

adele said...

Wonderful post and everyone should write to NCC.

Emma Barnes said...

This is the email I just sent:

"Please don't cut your funding to Seven Stories!

I don't live in Newcastle but I have visited Newcastle more than once specifically to visit Seven Stories. It is a wonderful resource for Newcastle and for the UK, and has led people like me to visit the city and to spend money there. As the Olympic opening ceremony showed, children's books are increasingly recognised as a valued part of who we are, and what defines us to the rest of the world. As a children's author who visits schools and libraries, I know that books bring deep pleasure to children, widen their horizons and allow them to excel in all part of their education.

I know times are hard but it would be very short-sighted to cut funding to Seven Stories - and to your library service."

Thanks, Lucy, for highlighting this issue.

Lucy Coats said...

Many thanks to all who have read this and written (lots from Twitter and FB). Sue - every voice counts, even if you don't live in Newcastle, and international voices are definitely welcome, so go for it! Michelle and Emma - brilliant, and a great point about both literary legacy and the Olympics.

Penny Dolan said...

With the cuts reported for the libraries in Newcastle, Seven Stories sounds like an even more important resource for the area - but it is a NATIONAL resource too!

Thanks for posting this and alerting people to the council's decision, Lucy.

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Nicola Morgan said...

Quite right. I blogged about it, too, and this was the email I sent to NCC, though I have had no reply:

"To Newcastle City Council – for the attention of anyone who cares about reading and readers:

"I live in Edinburgh but, as a children’s author, literacy specialist and vocal advocate for the need for libraries, librarians and vibrant reading organisations to create young readers, I have previously looked to Newcastle and Seven Stories as a paradigm of how to get reading right. Your support of the amazing Seven Stories has been critical to that.

"Everyone knows that funding organisations have to make cuts. Everyone expects to take a share of the burden. But 100%? For Seven Stories? Added to what you are already planning for public libraries? Surely not? How can this be justified by anyone who understands how readers are created? These places are not just repositories of books and depositories of information; they are seeds and roots and wells of empowerment.

"To cut either libraries or Seven Stories would be a failure of decent government; to cut them both would be to add scandal to failure. I urge you to reject the proposal and continue to support readers, particularly young readers. Please."

The more people say it, the better. Appalling thought that they could do this.

Maxine. said...

I've sent an email too - I think the government is to blame, and more councils will be making just as devastating cuts in the next few years. The arts are easy targets, but our children will be impoverished by their loss.

Neal Layton said...

Thanks for sharing this - I've shared via twitter and facebook to help spread the word...

Jane Cabrera said...

Thank you for a fantastic post.

Bridget Strevens-Marzo said...

Woah - such a great place. They can't, mustn't do this.

Beverley Naidoo said...

Thank you Lucy and everyone who has been rallying round to protect the wonderful Seven Stories. It is certainly not a Newcastle-only issue. This was my email to NCC:

"I live in the south of England but, on occasions, have come to Newcastle on visits specifically linked to the arts. As a writer of books for young people, I have a particular interest in the Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books.

"Seven Stories’ exhibitions and events enthuse new generations of young readers, whose development is essential for a society to flourish. But, beyond this important task, the Centre is developing the only national archive of contemporary children’s literature in Britain. Seven Stories is where I hope my own work will be archived for future researchers. Indeed Seven Stories has provided a much-needed alternative for work created in Britain to be retained here, rather than being transported across the Atlantic for archiving in an American collection.

"I know how much vision, dedication and commitment led to the creation of Seven Stories. What has taken years to create can be destroyed in very little time indeed. That’s the lesson of Humpty Dumpty.

"I understand that the City Council must make cuts but 100% is too much. If we lose places like Seven Stories, we will never get them back."

The more voices the better - before it is too late.