Self-confessed bookworm Gill DeCosemo has retired from her role managing Stokesley Globe Community Library. Jan Hunter reports.

In 2015, Stokesley Library, like many others, was in danger of closure when councils withdrew their funding. But two years later, in April 2017, it became a charitable trust – a community-operated library, run by trustees and funded by Stokesley town and some parish councils.

The funding included the employment of one library manager, and relied heavy on the goodwill and commitment of volunteers.

And it worked.

Stokesley Globe Community Library does what it says. A visit there is a heart-warming experience. A designated warm and safe space, it welcomes all comers. On one recent visit, Ukrainian guests were having English lessons, chess games were in full swing, a visiting artist was teaching an enthusiastic group, Citizen's Advice was in residence, and friendly volunteers were busy helping people with books and computers.

Former library manager, Gill DeCosemo, is a familiar figure to all in the community, as she was the person on-site each day of opening. Earlier this year she decided the moment was right to retire, and handed over to two new managers who are job-sharing the role.

"It's the relationships I have built up that I miss so much," she says. "But I will still be a volunteer, so I am not leaving completely."

Gill DeCosemo

Gill DeCosemo

Gill took over from the first library manager, the popular Jane Hall, who she supported as a volunteer. Enthusiastic and with a vision, Gill wasn't to know that nine months after her appointment, the Covid pandemic would strike.

"My plan, when I took over, was for the Globe to be at the heart of the community," she says. "In the early days I enabled people to set up clubs and activities which had been requested. With my background, I was able to help people with all aspects of the internet, and we set up audio and ebooks, Lego and reading clubs, and I would pack my car with books for the pop-up library which I ran every three weeks at Carlton, Faceby and Bilsdale School. I further developed links with schools, which I think is important. I also set up social media to inform people what we are about, and in the early days, with Sue Ward, the volunteer coordinator, we created the newsletter, but when Covid struck, everything stopped, and we really had to think how we could help our community get through this."

The library was closed, but Gill continued to go there two or three days a week for the book drop. She started a click and collect system, and would often deliver books herself, and worked closely with Community Care, which is housed in the same building, helping them to run a food bank. She would add jigsaws and games to the packages for the NHS workers and their families who were in isolation.

"We wanted to keep in touch, so people didn't feel isolated," says Gill. "Our library supervisor Jackie Nithakorn rang everyone on our system to make sure they were okay. Eventually, we reopened but slowly and gradually, as we wanted people to feel safe, and I think we were the first library in the area to do so."

Gill DeCosemo

Gill DeCosemo

Gill's lifelong love of books began in a little hamlet outside Goathland, and her first memories are of the visits from a mobile library. She remembers that she was so small she had to be lifted up the steps. During her childhood, she has lived in many different places, but it is the libraries which are memorable to her – the smell and the feel of books.

"My parents encouraged me to read. Books were very important in my family," she says. "The first poem I remember was AA Milne's, Disobedience or James James Morrison Morrison, as I called it, and for my birthday I got the World of Christopher Robin, illustrated by E H Shepherd. I still have it.

"My childhood was spent in Zambia and Malawi where there was no TV but wonderful public libraries, and I lived in the world of books inside my head. My Mum used to say that if a bomb went off while I was reading I wouldn't notice. She used to make me have a day off books!"

At the age of 13, after seven years in Africa, she moved with her family to Redcar where her uncle was the caretaker of the new library, and after school, she would walk to the library and spend time in her favourite place.

Gill took every opportunity to be with her beloved books and when she attended Northallerton Grammar School, she would spend the 40 minutes after school while waiting for her bus in the library.

Gill qualified as a biologist at university, and worked as a researcher in government labs, researching bio-technology, which was quite an exciting time for her. When the lab closed down and she was a full-time mum, she decided to qualify as a teacher, and was one of the first ever students on the new graduate teaching programme at Swainby Primary School, eventually teaching at Burneston School in Bedale.

In the meantime, her husband Mark had set up his own consultancy business and so she left teaching to help him, working behind the scenes supporting him and learning many skills which would feed into her work for the library. She became a volunteer when the Globe first opened its doors, supporting Jane Hall and working closely with Sue Ward and other volunteers. When the job for a new library manager became available, Gill leapt at the opportunity.

"The best thing about this job is all the relationships I have formed within the Globe community, and the people I have helped," she says. "I got to know so many people so well, that I really liked connecting the right person to the right book."

Dave Heggarty, the chair of the Globe's trustees, says it emerged from the Covid experience "stronger than ever". "It's now a warm, welcoming and vibrant place and Gill deserves much credit for that," he adds. "Stokesley now has a real community hub, a place that we are all very proud of. Thank you Gill, we all look forward to seeing you back at The Globe as a volunteer, and best wishes for your retirement."