Rowntree Park has always been about the health and happiness of York residents. And as it celebrates its 91st birthday tomorrow, the park continues the tradition with the opening of Britain’s first library reading café.
Under the Explore brand now established at the central, Acomb and New Earswick libraries, it will be staffed by a small team funded by the café profits. Two apprentices will be recruited to work there.
The library reading café is housed in the Edwardian tea shop in the park, newly-renovated, and will offer free wifi, a selection of books and a rolling programme of events.
The park has always responded to the needs of the changing city, once boasting an aviary and outdoor pool. Created by the Rowntree family to commemorate their workers lost in the First World War, it was opened on July 16, 1921, and given to the city to promote the health and enjoyment of York citizens.
The park-keeper’s house was once home to the legendary Parkie Bell who would deter mischievous children with a blow on his whistle, a shake of his fist and the earnest invitation to “Clear orf!”
Opening a new library is welcome at any time, but is particularly good news at a time when so many local authorities are closing libraries or cutting the opening hours. Hopefully this pioneering self-funding model will prove to be a success, to be copied up and down the country.
In the Guardian, Martin Wainwright was particularly impressed. “York has a well-developed social conscience combined with imaginative ways of tackling social problems,” he wrote.
“Here’s the latest. While many local councils face increasing difficulties in keeping libraries going, York is opening new ones by combining their traditional role with other attractions. The latest is in Rowntree Park, a delightful place to go for a stroll, nap or fresh-air games, and has a cafe with free wifi.”
Cath Mortimer from the Friends of Rowntree Park said: “Rowntree Park is a wonderful park and it now has a great café to go with the other facilities. We look forward to continuing to work with the council, in developing the library and community facilities which are the cherries on the cake.”
The Rowntree Park birthday celebrations take place between 2pm and 5pm on Saturday, July 14.
Events include a climbing wall, birds of prey display, live music, face painting, community stalls, food and drinks, ice creams, a bouncy castle, street sports, story telling, willow weaving and – new for this year – a fun dog show.
Organisers ask people to note that the car park will be closed all day.