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Case study: Explore York Libraries and City of York Council

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

Client: City of York Council, Libraries and Archives Services / Explore York Libraries and Archives

Date: February 2013 – May 2014

Challenges faced by the client: The Libraries and Archives service in York was a high performing service – it was in both the cheapest and highest performing 10% of library authorities in the UK. Despite their successes, however, there were a number of future challenges that led the team to consider different models for delivering the service:

  • Budget cuts and in-year budget reductions meant the service could not continue to operate as-was.

  • Increasing frustration working inside a large organisation they felt stopped them focusing on their core business.

  • Staff were committed to no library closures and having paid staff in every library, but this was hard to achieve with cuts.

  • 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 Libraries and Archives team saw that mutualising their service could help them move towards a more innovative, responsive and sustainable service.

Support offered: Mutual Ventures were delighted to be engaged to support the Libraries and Archives service on their journey to becoming a Public Service Mutual.

We worked closely with staff, service users, the wider community and Council decision makers to help turn their vision into reality. To do this, our support was split into two phases – (1) Business planning, and (2) Implementation.

During the business planning phase we led the production of a robust business plan. This included the development of a detailed financial model, forecasting the income and expenditure for both existing services and new services. During this phase, we also provided advice on the most suitable legal forms and governance structures, and technical aspects of the transition such as assets, HR matters, support services and taxation. Finally, we developed a detailed transition plan.

Following approval of the business and transition plans, we supported the implementation of the transition plan, which enabled them to successfully spin-out in May 2014.

Outcome achieved: Explore York Libraries and Archives, the country’s first mutual library and archive service, went live in May 2014.

Being an independent social enterprise with staff and community ownership ensures that customers, staff and communities directly influence the design of services and the future of the organisation.

Explore York Libraries and Archives continues to offer safe, welcoming, modern and impartial spaces for everyone. This way they can promote reading, support lifelong learning and help with digital inclusion.

The journey to becoming Explore York Libraries and Archives required a significant amount of work and challenges to be overcome, but Fiona and her team agree it has been worth it to secure the future of the service and to realise the ambitions of the Explore concept.

Fiona Williams, Chief Executive Explore York Libraries and Archives, said:

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.”


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