Re-writing the rule book on libraries
Darren Taylor is a successful social entrepreneur who has repeatedly developed his own visionary ideas for the benefit of others in the community. Ross Duncan tells his story.
Starting out, Darren ran a profitable business selling new laptops and PCs but saw the waste in people discarding them when they became old.
He set up a new shop to sell these second-hand computers, but soon realised that people “didn’t know how to use them”.
Taking his cue from this, Darren then set up an internet café to show people how to use computers. Such was the success of this venture that after less than a year, the internet café had twice outgrown its space.
With a new contract under his belt to collect unwanted computers from central London, Darren went back to Lewisham Council, which put him in contact with a local housing association.
Darren was introduced to the idea of taking on a listed building, which he immediately suggested he could turn into a library. However, Darren thought the rent was very high.
He came up with a visionary idea to convert the building by having computers, a library and a café on the upper levels and a recycling project in the basement, which would fund the activities upstairs. Eventually, the housing association gave Darren the building rent-free because the hub would be good for their tenants.
Two weeks prior to the official launch, the local council had announced the closure of five local libraries. At the launch of the library and social hub, Darren joked with the head of council libraries that he could run libraries. He was challenged to submit five tenders for five libraries and to show in writing how each library would be run sustainably. In reply, Darren said: “Well I am dyslexic, so you will get it bullet-pointed on a sheet of A4 paper”, which he did.
Darren won the contracts to run each of the libraries. His belief is that libraries are important for the community because they encourage community involvement and community responsibility, leading to a greater degree of social inclusion for all sections of society.
Although it wasn’t until Darren was 29 that he was first tested for dyslexia, growing up he used to visit libraries as a child. He recalls he didn’t touch any of the books and wasn’t really fascinated with them back then. For him, it was a shame that none of the libraries encouraged him to read or to learn phonics. So, running libraries has a lot of personal meaning to him, to encourage people to use libraries to get something positive from visiting and using the services.
Each library is managed by qualified paid staff and is independently run, but the local council still supplies the books. This means that there is less red tape and the management can be flexible in their approach to provide some free additional services such as running support lessons for maths and English.
When 90% of the money being generated from each library comes from running cafes and recycling computers, this makes each library more sustainable compared to a council-run library, which also means Darren can rent out available space for the maths and English classes.
Ross Duncan is a researcher and writer on a mission to raise awareness of dyslexia.
The UK Social Entrepreneur Index is a celebration of social entrepreneurship across the UK.
Open to social entrepreneurs tackling a social or environmental issue at any scale, entrants will act as beacons of inspiration for others to encompass positive social impact.
For more info visit www.socialentsindex.co.uk.