Nottingham Women’s Centre Library: the city’s secret treasure
Nottingham is a city filled to the brim with hidden gems that ought to have a spotlight shed on them.
We should take pride in our city’s radicalism, liberalism and kindness. Nottingham Women’s Centre Library is a prime example of just that. An unknown space that we should be proud of and spread awareness of.
As you walk around the library, you cannot help but be in awe of the amazing women who have come before us. From biographies to poetry, new fiction, old fiction, trans writing, gay rights, non-fiction, to the shortlist for the Women’s Fiction Prize, this library is fully stocked with all-female authors, all accessible to members (at just £5 a year for students!).
What is the Nottingham Women's Centre Library?
It’s a lending library, so if you’re a member of the Women’s Centre, you can have access to all these books. You can sit in the quiet sanctum of the library and just read, away from all the city bustle, away from the stresses of uni or work or exams, and you can do it within walls that embrace women empowerment. Or, you can take books out, sign them out at reception, and return them when you’re done, ready for the next inspiring read.
Each month there is a theme. Last month it was Black History Month. This month it is non-fiction/women in war in aid of Remembrance Day. They always have the latest books on display, and thanks to the generosity of publishers like Persephone, these shelves are always fully stocked with the latest novels by women. On the day of my visit, the ‘Silence of the Girls’, the winner of the Women’s prize for fiction, rested on the shelf among many others.
The library entirely rests upon volunteers and donations, and with such an expanse of books, you are humbled not only by the generosity of the city, national publishers, (the power of Twitter!) but also the strength of women, past and present, as their perseverance and talent is showcased.
Also home of the city's archives...
Tucked away at the back is a little room with boxes and boxes of archives of the women’s movement. A room filled with our history, our trail of how we got here today. You can literally trace opinions on trans rights, gay rights, women’s rights, the entire scope of feminism and the roots of such, all in a little room on Chaucer Street. Who’d have thought it? This library is a space open to all who identify as women.
The library and the Women’s Centre as a whole is a safe haven for the women of Nottingham.
As it has been since its birth in the 1970s. Women of Nottingham can walk in and be something other than homeless, someone, other than who they're defined as. All they need do is pop up the stairs, sit down, get cosy under a blanket and simply read.
I had a chat with two of the key volunteers, Nicola and Sally, who described the purpose of the library:
‘It’s an independent, therapeutic space away from everything else. It showcases women's achievements and their personal stories. It’s humbling, and a reminder that it’s not all bad out there. I am inspired daily by the sheer volume of works in this room.’
‘To not only see the origins of the movement but see how far we have come and be proud of that. Whether looking at the biographies or astounding pieces of fiction, you are left in awe.’
‘A Sanctuary. A hospital for the mind. A refuge… An escape from sexual abuse, homelessness, illness, and domestic violence.'
A space that knows no boundaries.
The library is collective and based 100% on donations. It spans across all possible boundaries: religion, culture, age, political views, and holds a history of both readers and writers. Every single woman will walk into this library and find a piece of themselves among the bookshelves. There is something any of us can relate to or aspire to be like.
The library hence offers an antidote for isolation and loneliness, as you read one of the books and realise you’re not alone, reflecting the words of famous author F. Scott Fitzgerald: “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
The Women’s Centre as a whole offers a vast range of help for the vulnerable women of Nottingham to help them feel safe, secure and supported in all aspects of their life. From creative writing classes to legal advice to help with sexual and domestic abuse, to immigration issues, to single mothers.
Anything a woman can possibly face in her life, she is offered help here.