In a community as dense and developed as Clayton, isolation might be one of the last problems that comes to mind.
But for Kim Winchell and Gabriel Avelar, that’s exactly what Clayton needs to solve.
“There was a survey that the City of Surrey had done with Clayton residents that came back with 63 per cent of residents … saying they felt isolated and socially disconnected,” Winchell said. “We were concerned about that.”
Winchell is the director of community impact and investment at United Way Lower Mainland. She first got involved in Clayton during the lead up to United Way’s “Local Love” campaign, which aims to give residents the opportunity to give back to their community.
Local Love, which launched in October, brought up some “interesting conversations” with residents as they worked with United Way, Winchell said. Some of those conversations were about libraries.
“There’s no library in Clayton, and the closest library is down in Cloverdale,” Winchell said. “People don’t necessarily want to leave their community” to access services.
The Clayton Community Centre, expected to be completed by mid-2020, would fill some of that need, as the project includes a library, as well as arts studios and gymnasium. But residents wanted something sooner — to fill both their literary and social needs.
That’s when the idea for free little libraries came in.
“They’re about fostering their surrounding community,” Avelar, assistant director of volunteer mobilization for United Way, said.
“The people that walk by the little library. The neighbours that walk their dog every day. The kids that come from school. The senior that goes to get groceries and walks by the little library. Those are the people that start to surround and care for that bumping place, for that place where they can meet each other,” he continued. “They develop a connection.”
The goal, Winchell and Avelar explained, is to create between four and six little libraries in areas around Clayton to act as small community hubs for local residents. There, they’ll be able to share books and build social bonds.
But in order to make that happen, they need partners in the community.
Unlike other communities where United Way has developed little library programs, Clayton’s libraries will be hosted on private land, not city land. So they need residents who want to become stewards of a little library, putting the library on their property and partnering with United Way to maintain it.
“The steward keeps the little library going,” Avelar explained. “They make sure there are books, and if they are any challenges … they kind of take ownership.”
United Way would never be far away, he added. “We’ll be there for a phone call,” he said. “They’re not left to their own devices.”
United Way has already put out a call to some Facebook groups in Clayton, asking for people interested in having little libraries on their properties. Some people have already gotten in touch, Winchell said, and United Way is hoping to have enough participants to begin putting in libraries in the new year.
CUPE Local 402, the City of Surrey workers’ union, has already agreed to build the libraries, and Winchell hopes they can get some local kids to decorate them. Then, it’ll be time to fill them with books and hopefully watch the sense of community grow.
“Our motto is start small, and by that we will gain momentum and actually transform communities,” Winchell said. “So we’re really excited by some of the conversations we’ve already had in Clayton.”
“There’s just a spirit of generosity here,” she continued. “We just feel like if we could harness that, we could really get some momentum going.”
People interested in hosting a little library can contact United Way at email@example.com.