On the 24th May 1897, the Right Hon. Leonard H Courtney MP opened the Bodmin Free Library. Paid for by Cornish philanthropist John Passmore Edwards, the building was a space where every person in Bodmin could come to learn and be inspired.
122 years later and the building is set to inspire people in Bodmin in a whole new way. With a new café, co-working space, wellbeing studio, meeting room, offices and stage for live performance, The Old Library will once again be a resource where the community can come to learn, try and be part of new things.
Fin Irwin, the founder and director of intoBodmin, the Community Interest Company behind the project, said:
“Having grown up in Bodmin and returning after 15 year in Exeter, I wanted to see a cultural resource in the town where I could take my children, get some nice food, see some theatre or join a class. I wanted to create a space where different people could come together for a variety of activity. When Cornwall Council put the library building on the market I seized the opportunity.”
In partnership with Krowji, intoBodmin have been working on securing a lease from Cornwall Council over the last year and with funding from Arts Council England and Cornwall Council, have been able to start using the space to put on a series of events. With 42 nights of theatre, music, talks and film screenings over the last six months, The Old Library has had nearly 2000 visitors. Fin continued:
“We have had a great response to our pop-up venue and as we come to cross the T’s and dot the I’s on the lease paperwork, we are now looking to gather some financial support from the community to pay for the work to install the café, kitchen and new ground floor accessible toilet.”
The Founding Supporters Campaign is looking for 100 people who are passionate about Bodmin and about the power that culture and community can have to change a town to donate £50, in return they will be acknowledged on a special role of honour in the building and on the intoBodmin website.
John Passmore Edwards, dubbed ‘Mr Greatheart’ donated large amounts of his wealth and paid for twenty libraries in Cornwall. He was passionate about social mobility and said that if he could fund the ladder, the poor would climb. In an age of reduced public spending and high competition for grants, it is now down to the great hearts of Bodmin, to help repurpose this public asset for another 122 years.
John Passmore Edwards said:
“There is a time for everything; a time to sow, and a time to reap; a time to gather and a time to distribute. Having gathered, I determined to put into act what I had long nurtured in thought, and use certain means at my disposal for the general good”