This was originally published on the Libraries Taskforce blog.

In October 2016 eight Manchester libraries were turned into Fun Palaces. Fun Palaces was  very much respond to the communities that they are situated in allowing for a wonderfully eclectic feel.

Fun Palaces vary in size and content and it’s a great focus for engagement with both partner organisations and, more importantly, with the communities that make up our libraries. The ethos of the Fun Palace allows for activities not having to be polished and slick and it means libraries can work with ‘un-tried’ and ‘un-tested’ activities.

Leigh M’Rabty, a librarian in south Manchester, commented “The part I loved most about the Fun Palaces was the grass roots level of working. The thought of contacting and working with local people, groups, businesses and partners really appealed. I knew the community would embrace the idea and run with it. They did not disappoint.”

The Library staff who volunteered to provide activities found it a great opportunity to share their skills and passions. Suddenly we got to see a bigger part of our staff, the sides of them that are more creative and more playful. People who are already courteous, warm and helpful got to really shine as they shared their passions including professional cake decorating, lassi making and still-life watercolour skills.

Alison Gill, a librarian in North Manchester, said “Staff said they would definitely like to repeat the event another year, and visitor feedback was really positive – everyone enjoyed it. Children were entertained and engrossed for the whole day. We made new working relationships and contacts as a result of this activity which can be productive for both parties.”

Miriam a well-established community arts worker ran a funny face making workshop in Longsight Library commenting that it had been the busiest workshop she had ever delivered and had to call a friend to come and support her! The Longsight Fun Palace had 2000 visitors throughout the day!

Carole responded to a community call out to get involved and had never done anything like this before. She ran a pen and ink drawing workshop. In the morning she was incredibly nervous but by the end of a busy day she was absolutely buzzing with the experience. It was really fantastic to see her level of confidence increase in one day.

We had excellent feedback from visitors too. People got really stuck in and enjoyed making and doing. We’ve already been asked for the date of the next Fun Palace. And we’re definitely on board for more! We saw first hand the benefits of building and strengthening relationships with new and existing partners, local communities and individuals. Plus we learnt the importance of time dedicated to fun and learning.

Funny faces at Longsight library Fun Palace. Photo credit: Manchester libraries
Funny faces at Longsight library Fun Palace. Photo credit: Manchester libraries

Roundup of activities in our 8 Fun palaces

  • Gym equipment demos/use, Minecraft, Coding, Sprout session, mask animation, stop motion art, origami, kite making, 3D printing
  • Giant mosaic, painting pigs, recycled tin can tidies, jewellery making, decoupage boxes, storytelling, drama workshop, Bangladesh folk dance, traditional Bangladesh costume workshop, card making, slime making, terrarium
  • Paint blowing, ink marbling, salsa dance workshop, paper folding, word clouds, pyramids, science magic tricks, makey makey machine
  • Kathak Dance, Bhangra, hummingbird dance, cake decorating, lassi making, Lego Mindstorm, funny face craft, augmented reality, memory box & gothic script, Manchester Moth/Big Draw, Code Club, badge-making, arts and crafts, origami and house decorations, Mehndi, beaded keyrings, spoken word, pen & ink, singer song writing, circus skills
  • Cross stitch, card making, quilting, beaded jewellery, watercolour painting, knitting, hummingbird dance, poetry, arts & crafts (clay modelling key rings & shell love hearts), drawing for wellbeing for adults (Zen Doodling), traditional games for adults and children, giant marbles run using recycled junk, Lego club session, mega blox corner with toys for tiny tots, story-telling and music for little ones, recycling game for eco-warriors, Great Manchester sewing bee, exhibition and talk about vintage postcard collecting, paper dollies and flowers paper craft, potting bulbs and seeds
  • Forensic science with GM Police (fingerprinting and mugshots), decoupage, gift boxes, talks on local history and how to publish your own work, yoga sessions, making fruit kebabs covered in chocolate