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Case Study: Bristol Central Library

Overview

Access audit and partnership with Bristol Central Library, a Grade I listed building located on College Green. Built in 1906, the library is still a centre for loaning books, but offers so much more than that and is an indispensable community hub for local residents.

The library provides a universal and varied range of services to everyone; it hosts activities and events from drop-in surgeries to reading groups, exhibitions, houses Bristol’s Business and IP Centre and is not only a place of study but a place where any member of the public can go to be signposted toward help they may need.

The Challenge

As the spaces are open to everyone, and with 1.2 million people coming through their doors pre pandemic, being accessible and inclusive is essential to the Bristol library service. Bristol Central Library were very aware that this meant ensuring their spaces and buildings were accessible and welcoming as possible for their users, and not only for people that use the library already, but for people that might want to.

A significant challenge was the fact that Bristol Central Library is a historic, Grade I listed building – this means that the building isn’t naturally particularly accessible and also limits what changes and adjustments can be made to the building.

WECIL’s work with Bristol Central Library developed at a crucial point in time as they were putting a new business centre into the main library, a project funded by the British Library. This involved substantial physical changes to the building, such as changing flooring and furniture, and the library was very conscious that they needed to check these changes were accessible for their users. As part of another funding bid to improve library buildings, Bristol Central Library needed an access report, which is where our team at WECIL stepped in.

Having already worked with Bristol Central Library looking at the potential for putting in a Changing Places toilet, which are much larger and accessible bathrooms big enough for an adult with an electric wheelchair, the access audit was the natural continuation of an evolving relationship between the two organisations.

Our Approach

Our approach was based around providing practical solutions as well as identifying problems within the building. Kate, Head of Libraries, applauded WECIL’s positive and enthusiastic attitude as we appraised the good as well as pointing out areas for improvement. This balanced approach is crucial for enabling behaviour change and making meaningful progress within organisations.

WECIL helped the library team look at the building with fresh eyes, pointing out things they wouldn’t otherwise notice – one of the benefits of working with a third party organisation. WECIL conducted the audit especially well considering the additional challenge of the historic building, and suggested appropriate adjustments specific to the building rather than a generic report.

Whilst our work was mainly focused around the physical space, WECIL are continuing to work with Bristol Central Library around their whole accessibility and inclusion agenda and developing an ongoing partnership with them which will involve some staff training as part of their Innovation Fund award. There is also discussion of specific audits for autism and dementia.

The Outcome

The access audit has been practically useful; one immediate change that occurred as a result of the audit was removing the security barriers in the exhibition corridor and replacing these with a much wider and more accessible entrance.

Crucially, as well as establishing changes like this that the library can make itself, the audit has also helped identify areas for future improvement. With this deeper understanding of accessibility of the building, it will make funding bids more productive as the library now knows exactly and specifically what they need help with in the longer term.

It is an ongoing process of implementing the changes suggested by the report, but WECIL will continue to be a valuable consultant for the library whenever they make decisions about accessibility. Whilst WECIL has only worked with Bristol Central Library so far, the approach taken here can be replicated and some of that education and learning taken to other libraries within Bristol, and so WECIL’s work in this instance has indirectly helped to improve awareness within the larger library network.

What they say

‘We were delighted to work with WECIL on a recent access audit of Bristol Central Library. We wanted to ensure that the recent improvements to the ground floor area were accessible and to also find out if the service from the building as a whole was as welcoming and accessible as it could be. As the library is Grade 1 listed, it is always a challenge to ensure we are an accessible place for all Bristol residents. The team from WECIL were informed, understanding and efficient in the audit. Communication and arrangements were straightforward and we welcomed the report and its recommendations that we are working towards implementing.’

Kate Murray | Head of Libraries @ Bristol Libraries

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