Written by Ann MacGillivray
I grew up mostly in Bitterne Park and first remember the value of Cobbett Road Library to my Mum who was restoring an MG Racing car, there was only ever 21 of this vehicle originally made and only 7 left in the World when she started the project. My Mum was used to the mechanical side of a vehicle having been a driving instructor on lorries whilst in the TA Territorial Army during the WW2. After the War many occupations that were filled by Women were handed back to Men. Women were consigned to housework duties. The value of Cobbett Road Library to my Mum was enormous in enabling her to pursue her interests outside of House Keeping. She finished the restoration of this vehicle a rare object at the time. I believe that it was eventually exported to another Country. Her experience with the Library absolutely Priceless.
Photos courtesy of Ann MacGillivray
One particular family memory (from the early 80s) is of a visit from children’s author and illustrator John Ryan, who gave an informal talk as he sketched away at an easel - what a treat, especially for our younger son, who was a huge fan of Captain Pugwash at the time! As our family grew and their interests changed, there was always plenty to draw us to Cobbett, not least the summer holiday book trails (happy memories of two boys and their little sister coming home with armfuls of books), then the children’s library packed on a September Saturday morning, when the young readers received their certificates and medals for completing the trail.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve become a teacher at a special school. A walk to Cobbett came to feature on our timetable, not just as an opportunity for my class to practise valuable life skills, but for the sheer enjoyment of the range of reading material on offer - there really was something for everyone (and some of us did have very specific interests). Most importantly, all this could happen in a calm and safe environment, the library staff always welcoming and supportive.
A few years more, and I’m a grandma, introducing another little girl to the delights of Cobbett. We usually went on a Friday morning, when we had fun as part of the Cobbles Toddler Group (always great excitement when the box of percussion instruments appeared!), and browsed contentedly among the books afterwards. I discovered the delights of ‘Room on the Broom’, and other Julia Donaldson favourites.
With the easing of work and family commitments, we were able as a couple to devote a bit more time to the library, initially by attending the Friday evening talks (what a great range of speakers, they seemed to cover everything from fungi to family history), and then giving more active support by joining the Friends group. I started volunteering as a library gardener, trying to carry on the good work undertaken by two inspirational ladies who had done so much already. We even entered Southampton in Bloom, and, thanks to a successful grant application, were able to transform the drab paved area at the back of the building into a flourishing courtyard garden.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the various challenges Cobbett has faced in the twenty first century, it still seems to me the heart of our local community, a place people of all ages have come to know and love, whether to sing along in Rhyme Time, unleash their creativity in Drama, or relax in Tai Chi. We’ve enjoyed Christmas Fayres and Macmillan Tea Parties, Art exhibitions and (under patient instruction) Regency dancing. Those talks and presentations have continued too; children’s author Ali Sparkes and naturalist Chris Packham (both hugely supportive of Cobbett) have entertained and inspired us in recent years.
Thanks to everyone who has helped to make Cobbett such a success during its long life. In 2019 we celebrated the Library’s eightieth birthday - here’s to the next ten years!
Remembering our library, now more than ever ...
Unfortunately, Cobbett Road Library is likely to remain closed for a few months from Friday 29th of January as SCiA has pulled out from running the library. This coincides anyhow with limited opportunities to access the library spaces and services, due to Covid-19 restrictions.
FCRL would like to take this time of closure to take stock and invite everyone to remember the library, how it has enriched our lives and what value it brings to the local community.
A small competition to remember the library
We are launching a small competition and asking members of the community to write a short story, a memory of their own experience at the library. It can be you were a member of the local art group, or you visited as a child to borrow books; maybe you are a mum that attended the library toddler group or you volunteered at the library in past years. Whatever the view or experience, it is useful to build a collective account of the value of our local library.
We will post here short contributions (maximum 600 words) from members of the community between February and May 2021. In June, one of the contributions will be selected to receive a £10 voucher to be spent at October Books.
To submit your story please use this online form. If you would like to include a photo of you or a memory at the library, let us know.
Please share with anyone in the community and on social media.