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West Berkshire 'wee libraries' bring village cheer in tough times

Compton 98-year-old's carpentry skills put to good use with community book boxes

A 98-year-old from Compton has been brightening up the village with his 'wee libraries', installed around town for use by the community.

The wooden box libraries are mounted at select locations throughout Compton.

Residents are able to deposit read and unwanted books in them, and to take material out for their own leisure.

There are currently four 'libraries' in the village.

Of these, three are the creation of Ray Frewing, a pensioner, who makes them in his workshop.

The first was placed in the garden of the Foinavon pub early last year.

Jane Gartshore – Mr Frewing's daughter – said: "It started in Compton during the first lockdown, when we had a small library in an undercover area of the pub garden.

"When that lockdown ended and the pub had to open again, we lost that area.

"One of the residents in the village, who's actually Irish, had seen these wee libraries being used in Ireland, and she suggested it.

"Dad made the first one – and coincidentally, someone else in the village also made one.

"That was installed a few months ago.

"Since then, he's [Mr Frewing] made two more."

At certain times, the boxes have served as a substitute for the official mobile library service, operated by West Berkshire Council.

During the pandemic, this service has often been unavailable to Compton villagers.

Indeed, even when it does come to the village, users have to book in advance and cannot simply browse for books.

Mrs Gartshore believes the wee libraries fill a vital niche: "When we've put them up, we've had a few books to go in, but they've very quickly filled up with books that other people have donated."

"And then we've had lots of people who've said 'this has been a lifeline during lockdown'."

The boxes have been crammed with a variety of literature, including adult and children's fiction, quiz books and factual material.

Mr Frewing hopes to continue building the libraries, which have emerged as a real community asset. He has even received requests from villages outside Compton.

He said: "They're very simple – just a simple box with a door on the front.

"People come along and put the books in, take books they like and put back books they don't like.

"Particularly at this time, when we've got this problem with the virus, people don't have to go out very far – just go down the end of the road, and there's one there."

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