Mutual Ventures

Case studies

Leisure and Culture – York CC Libraries and Archives


The City of York Council’s Libraries and Archives service has a long history of delivering an excellent service, and in 2010 it was in both the cheapest and highest performing 10% of library authorities in the UK.  The past five years has also seen a number of other successes – ‘Explore’ community hubs rolled out at the central library in York and at Acomb and also an increased usage of the service.  These are achievements of which Fiona Williams and her team in York were rightly proud.

Despite their successes, there were a number of looming challenges that led the York team to consider different models for delivering the service:

  • Budget cuts and in-year budget reductions (20% of the total budget) meant the service could not continue to operate as-is.
  • Staff felt increasingly frustrated by working for a large organisation that prevented them from focusing on their core business.
  • Staff were committed to no library closures and having paid staff in every library.
  • Staff were unwilling to reduce service quality but the cuts made this hard to achieve.
  • The Council was seeking to increase community, voluntary sector and employee engagement in the delivery and ownership of its services.

The staff realised that mutualising could help them move towards a more innovative, responsive and sustainable service.  The Council completed an initial feasibility study which concluded that a community  and staff led mutual was the right model for the service and Cabinet Office Mutual Support Programme funding was secured to explore this further.  In February 2013, Mutual Ventures were appointed to test the viability of the proposed new organisation and to assist with the development of their business plan. The Mutual Ventures team also provided Fiona and her team with guidance on legal form, governance and other legal matters relating to the set-up of the new PSM.

On 1st May 2014, Explore Libraries and Archives Mutual officially launched!

Oliver Cappleman, Mutual Ventures Director: “I first met Fiona in February 2013 and was impressed by her clear and compelling vision for future of the service.  Over the next 15 months we worked closely with Fiona and her team, and key stakeholders within Council, to turn their vision into a robust business plan, and then supported them through the transition phase to enable them to successfully spin-out in May 2014.”

Fiona Williams, Chief Executive, Explore Libraries and Archives: “We couldn’t have got to where we are now without the support from the Mutual Ventures team. At a time of pretty severe financial pressures, they worked with us to develop our services and to ensure our organisation was financially sustainable. They really understood how to introduce commercial rigour into our operation without losing sight of our overarching social focus as a library service. I would be happy to recommend them to anyone looking to put an arts focused organisation on a solid commercial footing.”