Newbury Library receives Library of Sanctuary Award June 2023

Newbury Library Sanctuary Award

On Wednesday 21 June 2023, Newbury Library Manager Sue Kavanagh was delighted to receive the Library of Sanctuary award from Nick Harborne, CEO of the Refugee Support Group, as the first place of sanctuary in West Berkshire.

The current Newbury Library was built at the Wharf and opened in 2000 after the original free Library in Newbury, that opened in 1905 on top of a old workhouse in Cheap Street, was deemed to be too small. 

Location plaque of original free library
Today's library was opened in 2000

The new chairman of West Berkshire Council, Jeremy Cottam, had also previously been Council Chairman when the current library was built. So this was a significant occasion for him, recognising the importance of the library staff and volunteers to local people, especially those who are new to the Newbury area. He described the library as a “guiding light,” welcoming people into the community.

A delegation of West Berkshire councillors attended the award ceremony. 

Left to right: Heather Codling,  Children, Education and Young People’s Services Executive Portfolio Holder; Sue Kavanagh, Library Manager; Janine Lewis, Public Health, Culture, Leisure, Sport and Countryside Executive Portfolio Holder; Lourdes Cottam, councillor; Jeremy Cottam, Chairman of the Council and Louise Sturgess, councillor.

They were later joined by Newbury Mayor Nigel Foot.

The councillors were offered a tour of the Library by Sue Kavanagh and Clare Middleton, one of the founders of Educafe. 

The ceremony itself was introduced by Felicity Harrison, Culture and Libraries Manager at West Berkshire Council who thanked former library manager Ben Stanmore and Jacqueline Cooper for their hard work on the award application as well as Clare Middleton from Educafe and Berkshire School of English.  

Reading City of Sanctuary Co-ordinator, Maggie Filipova-Rivers, explained the concept of a ‘building of sanctuary’ and the vision to create a tapestry of safe place across Berkshire with the desire “to push as hard as we can against structures and systems that are designed to harm and cause suffering to our friends from Sanctuary.”


The Refugee Support Group has been working across Berkshire for nearly 30 years offering legal aid and advice, and set up Reading City of Sanctuary in 2015. They collaborate with many organsitions including West Berkshire Action for Refugees, Healthwatch, refugee support groups, churches and mosques. CEO Nick Harborne presented the award and suggested that together the groups could work towards Newbury becoming a ‘City of Sanctuary’ as well.

Library Manager Sue Kavanagh gratefully received the award and thanked the library staff and volunteers and said, “we are always ready to welcome and support refugees. We are thrilled to be receiving the Library of Sanctuary award”

The Library provides a safe space during what is a tough time for refugees to adjust to their new suroundings. It also facilitates free English conversation practice in Educafe’s Chatty Corner every Wednesday.

During the Covid pandemic, the Library had started to digitize its materials and did its best to maintain its services in a changing world.

Clare Middleton, co-founder of Educafe was also delighted to be part of the application process for the Library of Sanctuary. “We at Educafe are pleased to have helped integrate the refugee and asylum-seeking community into the library system and from there into the wider community enabling them to access wider services they might not otherwise have heard about and to meet people from other cultures and join in activites. We have had great feedback from many people who attended our Chatty Corner weekly English conversation who say they feel welcomed in Newbury. We are delighted that the library and Educafe is a safe space for absolutely everyone whether they come from Newbury or from the other side of the world.”

Educafe runs from 11am to 2pm at Newbury Library every Wednesday, closing only for Christmas, Easter and August. Besides the English Conversation Chatty Corner there is a free cafe, knit and natter table and Parents’ Village. More visitors and volunteers are always welcome.

Please see information here about the location and opening times of Newbury Library itself.

To hear from refugees themselves as to how important the library and community support is to them, please watch the video below.

Penny Locke
Anna van der Giessen
Work experience student
Year 10, The Clere School


Photography credits include: Leah Wigley, work experience student, Newbury College and Ginette Gibson


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