Features, Literature

The LEGACY Issue: The faces behind Manchester’s historical libraries

0 42

Manchester, a UNESCO City of Literature, is home to 22 public libraries, with the oldest of these having existed since 1653. It’s also home to independents, such as The Portico and university libraries, including the Manchester Poetry Library, the North West’s first poetry library.

Who are the people working behind the scenes, within the silent walls, of these historic institutions? They don’t always receive recognition, yet their own stories deserve to be shared as much as the ones on the library shelves.

Fergus Wilde works at Chetham’s Library, the oldest public reference library in the English-speaking world. After almost three decades at Chetham’s, Fergus is due to retire. During this time, he has supported the online cataloguing of thousands of resources, facilitated visitors’ tours and supported readers on their quests into the archives.

Working as a librarian at Chetham’s has shaped Fergus’ view on the power of literature: “We’re facing new and different problems from those of four hundred years ago, but we’re still the same humans with needs and desires that have changed little. Reading, understanding and working with generations long gone means more than preserving the past — it can enrich our own lives.”

Although Fergus will not be there (he’s busy enjoying his well-deserved retirement) it’s worth a trip to Manchester’s Medieval Quarter to experience Chetham’s and the people preserving its 600-year-old legacy.

The Portico can be found on Mosley Street with a team of staff tending to its 450-year-old archive and collection of over 25,000 books. The first person you’ll meet is Ellie Holly, who volunteered at the library for three years before joining as its Welcome Desk Assistant. She particularly enjoys being involved in the Portico’s exhibitions. Her favourite was a recent project spotlighting the library’s collection through the suggestions of its volunteers.

“I really loved that one because you got to see what other people thought were interesting in the library, and their own connection to it,” she says.

Another joy of working at the Portico for her is creating personal connections with other people, as visitors “want to talk about the history of the library and their own lives as well”.

A library since 1806, there is plenty of history within these four walls: writer Elizabeth Gaskell and the founder of atomic theory John Dalton were regular visitors. With support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Portico hopes to re-connect all the floors it once occupied to develop it as a centre for learning, literature and history.

But you don’t even need to leave Manchester Met’s campus to find inspiring individuals fuelling the creative hearts of our libraries. The Manchester Poetry Library can be found on the ground floor of the Grosvenor East building, a serene space looking out onto Oxford Road’s busy corridor.

Roma Havers, the library’s Learning Manager, is a poet, mentor, facilitator and theatre-maker. She coordinates cultural events and projects, and also wrote and performed in LOB, a “poetry tennis bonanza” presented at Contact Theatre in 2022.

Over the past two years, Roma has co-produced work alongside young people, NHS workers and neurodivergent poets. Shortly after joining the library, she created a space for poets in Manchester to produce residency works in a collaborative environment.

“To me, it feels really key to the stuff we do which is co-producing with the people we’re working with,” she says. “We have exhibitions of work from the people of Manchester and from poets that are coming up and we value those.”

Roma is an advocate for inclusivity in the city’s poetry community. Her next project is a “critic’s collective”, which will develop and exhibit creative responses to poetry in the library. She believes that this is an important next step in further integrating poetry into the cultural footprint of the city. 

She says, “It adds to the sense that Manchester embraces poetry as part of its community, that it takes poetry seriously and wants to connect it to other parts of the city’s culture.”

About the author / 

Makenna Ali

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More News Stories:

  • Opinion: “Our real legacy at university is the friends we make along the way”

    We all prioritise different things in life: our relationships, academic achievement, and financial success. While these can be great catalysts for short and long-term goals, making us resilient,  fixating on these goals can become overwhelming, even detrimental. Focusing on what we feel we have to achieve can make it easy to lose sight of the present. This also applies to university life.

  • Reading and Leeds Festival 2024: The best bands to see this year

    Featured image: Georgina Hurdsfield Overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of choice on offer at this year’s Reading and Leeds Festival? Don’t worry, we’ve got you. We’ve trawled the lineups to bring you a cluster of acts to watch on the August bank holiday weekend. From jungle to riotous punk, there’s a bounty of brilliant bands…

  • Film Review: The Idea of You – A sappy feel-good rom-com

    Featured image: PA Media In this sappy, heart-warming rom-com, two lovers meet at Coachella as Solène (Anne Hathaway) takes her daughter to a meet and greet at the Californian music festival. Known for her iconic roles in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and The Princess Diaries (2001), Hathaway plays the role of a 40-year-old divorcee…

  • Travel: Tips for multi-country trips abroad while keeping your bank account happy

    Featured image: Georgia Pearson The summer break from university is approaching and conversations about travel plans can be heard across campus. But with the cost of living at a high, students and young people are looking for cheaper ways to travel this summer. Travelling to multiple countries during one trip can be a budget-friendly way…