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Library winner announced

Legendary author, playwright and broadcaster Alan Bennett says libraries are a vital community service and should be publicly funded.

Mr Bennett was speaking at the presentation of the inaugural David Vaisey Prize for libraries in Gloucestershire.

“Libraries like hospitals like public transport, should come out the rates. They are, or should be, a community service,” Mr Bennett said during the event which was held as part of the Cheltenham Festival of Literature on Sunday.

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something . . . a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things. . . which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have not met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.

“In the multiplication of such moments libraries and librarians are indispensable and the David Vaisey Prize celebrates that,” he said.

The winning library was Bream Community Library in the Forest of Dean. Library volunteer James Robertson collected the £5,000 prize.

The 17-year-old started volunteering at the community library last year.

“To win this award is massive,” said James. “Everybody at the library is enormously proud of all the effort that every volunteer has put in.”

The judges, which included TV presenter and journalist Anne Robinson, praised Bream’s initiatives one of which is its Lego Club.

The volunteers set up a Lego club to promote literacy. Children are encouraged to build Lego project and gain inspirations from Lego books which they are encouraged to read with their parents. The children are encouraged to revisit the Library and regular quizzes with prizes based on their reading was given.

“With the Lego idea, Bream found a way of not just successfully helping to improve literacy but developing a love of books,” said Miss Robinson, who became a household name for the TV game show The Weakest Link.

“Young people, with limited options for engagement in the village, are coming into the library – some for the first time – and borrowing books.”

Three runners-up each received £1,000. They were: Longlevens, Brockworth, and a combined entry from Tuffley and Matson.

The award was launched in honour of David Vaisey CBE, who dedicated his life to libraries, becoming head of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University and Keeper of the Archives there.

Mr Vaisey and Mr Bennett, who have been friends for more than 50 years, first met at Exeter College, Oxford.

“We were both of us on a full grant which, though not munificent, was adequate. One notion that we have lost in David’s and my lifetime is of the state as nurturer,” said Mr Bennett.

“For both of us the state was a saviour delivering us out of poverty and putting us on the road to a better life.”

The David Vaisey Prize encourages readers of all ages to borrow more books, read and discuss titles, as well as sparking community support and help from volunteers.

Broadcaster Anne Robinson chaired this year’s judging panel, with Marianne Hinton, Cheltenham Music Festival chair Edward Gillespie, author Jamila Gavin, and Trevor Lee, Head of Literacy at Kingshill School in Cirencester.

Twenty Gloucestershire libraries entered the competition.

“We are delighted that the inaugural David Vaisey prize had been won by Bream Community Library for a innovative project which encourages children to read through the use of Lego,” said Jane Everiss, Head of Gloucestershire Library Services.

“Congratulations to all the shortlisted libraries and our thanks go to Alan Bennett and David Vaisey for attending and to Anne Robinson and all of the judges for their hard work in judging the initiatives.”

The initiative is supported by the Gloucestershire Library Services, the Booker Prize Foundation, leading Gloucestershire law firm Willans LLP, the Honourable Company of Gloucestershire, Alan Bennett and writer Jilly Cooper, among others.


As I child, I learnt to read quite early in a process that has always seemed to me mysterious. My brother and I were both avid readers of comics, with my comics . . . Dandy, Beano, Knockout. . .  largely pictorial whereas my brother, three years older, had graduated to comics with serials and stories. . .  Hotspur, Wizzard and Champion. I learned to read, it’s always seemed to me, by dint of lying on the hearthrug, beside my brother and staring at the columns of print that he was absorbing and probably pestering him to tell me what they meant. Suddenly, as it seemed to me then, one day looking over his shoulder I found the words made sense and we could both read the same comics.

Thereafter, I read chiefly Richmal Crompton’s William books and Hugh Lofting’s books about Doctor Doolittle. There were no classics – no Winnie the Pooh, no Alice, no Wind in the Willows – I suspect I thought them too posh. William, I knew, was a made-up character embodied in perpetuity in the illustrations of Thomas Henry who, and this is entirely by the way, as a child lived opposite DH Lawrence in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire.

If William was fiction, I was never entirely sure that Dr Doolittle was and thought there might indeed be somewhere called Puddleby on the Marsh and even a creature like the PushMe PullYou. Vestiges of this half-belief must have clung on because in the 90s, Hugh Lofting’s son came to see me and I remember looking at him and thinking that I might find in his face some traces of Dr Doolittle’s round head and even rounder nose. They were to me magical books.

So, quite early on, I was at home with books, borrowed from local libraries in Leeds, Armley and Headingley, though never allowed to read library books in bed because of my mother’s fear of our catching TB or scarlet fever, and the books themselves, including the ones she and my father had borrowed, kept out of sight because my mother thought they made the place untidy.

So, it was natural when I got to 15 or 16 that my first part-time job was to do with books. This was at Austicks, then a prosperous bookseller in Leeds with a branch in Cookridge Street just by the Headingley tram stop. I asked if there was a job, thinking I’m sure, that this would get me into contact with books, which it certainly did.  Underneath the shop was a cellar, lightless, airless and knee-deep in books, some new and remaindered, but mostly second-hand. They were in no sort of order, not even in piles, sea of print with my job to dredge up any I thought saleable, for which Saturday work I was paid ten shillings and not really even paid that as I took my wages in books.

This though, was an early and useful vaccination against the charm of books. Books, I realised, could be quite mucky. This was a sea of mucky books – and I don’t mean pornography. Books that were heavy, dirty and unwieldy and, at that stage of my life, sifting through them to find a stray volume for yet another run of Motley’s Rise of the Dutch Republic, there was no romance to them at all.

I was reminded of these sentiments as recently as last week because we’ve been going through our own books, a process that nowadays is called ‘downsizing’, with the books just as heavy and dirty as they were when I was sixteen. And that took me back, too, to when I was an undergraduate and first went into the Bodleian Library where, as often as not in Duke Humphrey, there was the Keeper of Western Manuscripts, grandly titled, it’s true, which in a long apron like a removal man. Make no mistake about it, books are manual labour. Which might seem like a slightly ungracious introduction to the man we are here to celebrate, David Vaisey, Bodley’s Librarian Emeritus. Our friendship goes back to the 1950s when we first encountered one another in Exeter College hall at Oxford. I was in the process of doing my national service, studying Russian at Cambridge, whereas David was about to be conscripted into the King’s African Rifles and we were in Exeter hall to sit the History Scholarship examination. I remember him as seeming very grown up and with handwriting to match whereas my handwriting was gawky and still unformed though David remembers there was a lot of it as I kept having to go up for more paper. It was bitterly cold but we both bagged seats near the fire in conditions which nowadays would be thought almost Mediaeval.

Our backgrounds were not all that different, though I’d been at a state school in Leeds, whereas David, born in Tetbury, had been to primary school and won a scholarship to public school at Rendcomb. But  . . . and this cannot be said too often. . . . neither of us, in the conditions that prevail today, would have been able to go to university. My father was a butcher, David’s a gardener and we were both of us the first of our families to go to university, let alone to Oxford.

We were both of us on a full grant, which, though not munificent, was adequate. It’s a set-up students today can only dream of and one day I still hope that we’ll get back to it. One notion that we have lost in David and my lifetime, is of the state as nurturer. For both of us, the state was a saviour, delivering us out of poverty and putting us on the road to a better life.

In one respect though our childhood’s differed, whereas in my childhood in Leeds there had always been libraries, in Tetbury there was no library, which, a cod psychologist might say, explains why David eventually ended up as head of one of the world’s greatest libraries. There’s a library in Tetbury today which thrives as a voluntary enterprise, like that of my own local library in Primrose Hill. But again, we should not allow ourselves to be persuaded that this is the norm: libraries, like hospitals, like public transport, should come out of the race for taxes. They are, or should be, a community service.

After Oxford, David and I went our different ways. David’s early career not unlike that of another librarian, Philip Larkin, whose first posting was to Wellington in Shropshire. David’s was to Stafford. He used to write me long letters in those early days and I remember once him telling me how he was alone in the library one evening, gas-lit as it was then, and how he was clearing out a store room . . . dirty work . . . and in the gloom he saw a box on a top shelf. Climbing the ladder he opened it and nearly fell off, there, staring him in the face was the death mask of Palmer the poisoner. I don’t think the Bodleian, to which he shortly afterwards returned, ever furnished comparable horrors but it proved for him an ideal place, as he was notably businesslike and practical, qualities at that time which were not always in evidence there.

We have been friends now for more than fifty years and without it being a landmark in the history of the library, it’s because of a seemingly casual remark David made to me years ago, long before he was head of the library, that my papers have ended up in the Bodleian. . . a mixed blessing for them, I sometimes think, as they can’t have bargained for the jorum of the paper resulted. Though at least they are paper, not email or floppy discs, which I’m ashamed to say are a closed book to me, though fortunately not for David and it’s thanks to him that the library was put in the forefront  of modern technology, overseeing as he did the digitalisation of the catalogue so that the resources of the library became available not just to immediate readers, but to the public at large. This is his signal achievement.

Reading is a risky business. You are, after all, putting your mind and your imagination at the service of someone else.. . being taken for a ride and not always knowing where. “We read”, wrote CS Lewis, “to know that we are not alone”, which is a more succinct way of saying what Hector the old schoolmaster says in the History Boys:

The best moments in reading are when you come across something . . . a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things . . .which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have not met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.

In the multiplication of such moments, libraries and librarians are indispensable, and the David Vaisey Prize celebrates that.




The shortlisted libraries with Anne Robinson at Gloucester Cathedral

Shortlisted libraries announced

Four Gloucestershire libraries have been shortlisted for the first David Vaisey Prize which encourages young and old to read more.

The quartet – Bream, Longlevens, Brockworth and Tuffley and Matson will now vie for the £5,000 top prize for a library initiative. The three runners-up will each receive £1,000.

They were chosen from 20 entries from libraries across Gloucestershire. The initiative has been launched with support from the Gloucestershire Library Services, the Booker Prize Foundation, the Honourable Company of Gloucestershire, playwright Alan Bennett, writer Jilly Cooper and leading Gloucestershire law firm, Willans LLP among others.

Bream Library was shortlisted for its imaginative initiative to increase the number of children to visit the library.

It runs a regular LEGO club where children build LEGO projects and gain inspiration from LEGO books which they read wit their parents.

Longlevens Library was singled out for its magical reading space with a focus on Roald Dahl. Working with community groups such as the library’s Knit and Natter and the Library Community Art Group the team created a giant knitted peach with characters from James and The Giant Peach.

They are now creating new quiet spaces based on popular children’s books. Tuffley and Matson Libraries were shortlisted for its Opening Doors initiative with Gloucester Academy.

The Year 7 students visit Tuffley library weekly and the library team provide talks and support on whatever current topic the students are working on.

Matson Library staged a Shakespeare production for the students and also worked closely with Gloucester Academy to arrange visits from students to create a safe space for young people to spend time and to encourage reading.

Brockworth Community Library won praise for its Community Hub which provides a range of events and activities for the young and the older people.

Among the sessions are tea and cake afternoons for seniors, story time for young parents and small children, Knit and Natter, walking club and regular reading sessions with teachers and pupils from the local school.

Broadcaster Anne Robinson chairs the charity’s judging panel, with Marianne Hinton, Cheltenham Music Festival chair Edward Gillespie, author Jamila Gavin, and Trevor Lee, Head of Literacy at Kingshill School in Cirencester. The winner will be announced by Anne Robinson at The Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on October 8.

David Vaisey CBE, who the prize was named after, was the son of a Tetbury gardener who has devoted his life to libraries. He won scholarships to Rendcomb and to Oxford and became the head of its Bodleian Library and one of the outstanding scholar librarians of our time.

Gloucestershire law firm Willans joins our list of supporters 

The David Vaisey Trust is delighted to have the support of its solicitors, leading Gloucestershire law firm, Willans LLP, with its quest to identify outstanding Gloucestershire library initiatives.

Celebrating its 70th birthday this year, Willans LLP is one of the longest established law firms in Cheltenham. As specialists in charity law, the firm assisted the Trust by establishing as a charitable incorporated organization.

The law firm is also donating the Willans Bowl; a trophy which will accompany the £5,000 prize money awarded to a winning county public library during The Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival in October.

Commenting on the firm’s involvement, Bridget Redmond, managing partner at Willans LLP said:

“We are very proud to support the Vaisey Trust and the David Vaisey Prize in its inaugural year. Our libraries are such a valuable community resource and this initiative is a great way of putting libraries in the spotlight and acknowledging the hard work of the many volunteers who support our county and community libraries throughout Gloucestershire.”

Shortlist to be announced August 1

The first David Vaisey Prize has been successfully launched and the judging process is well under way. There have been 20 initiatives from the 39 libraries to demonstrate more borrowing, reading and discussion of books by all ages while encouraging community support and help from volunteers in their catchment areas. The Prize will be presented at The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literary Festival in October.

The panel of judges comprises Anne Robinson[the broadcaster as Chair], Marianne Hinton[a patron and supporter of several arts charties], Jamila Gavin[a local writer of children’s books] Edward Gillespie[Chair of the Cheltenham Music Festival], and Trevor Lee[Assistant Headteacher and Head of Literacy at Kingshill School in Cirencester]. They have started examining the entries and are visiting a number of libraries.

The David Vaisey Trust has been registered as a charity and has received a number of generous grants from charities, family trusts and individuals including the Gloucestershire Community Foundation, the Booker Prize Foundation, the Bodleian Library, the Honourable Company of Gloucestershire, Ernest Cook Trust, Alan Bennett, Jilly Cooper, and Sir Harvey McGrath. Representatives will, of course , be invited to the shortlist announcement in Gloucester on August 1st and to the final award presentation in Cheltenham on 8th October.

The Trustees are meeting regularly, and have made several visits to the libraries in the county over the past year to encourage entries. They have received invaluable help and advice from the Gloucestershire Library Service and the Cheltenham Festivals.

The Prize is named after David VaiseyC.B.E. David is the son of a Gloucestershire gardener from Tetbury. He won scholarships to Rencomb and Oxford. His working life was devoted to libraries, finally becoming head of Oxford’s Bodleian Library as one of the outstanding scholar librarians of our time. It is hoped that David Vaisey will be able to attend the award ceremony in his wheelchair supported by his family.

The Prize has received good coverage from local media and press and more is in the pipeline. The interest which the Prize has already generated clearly indicates that it should be continued in subsequent years.