Little free libraries in Exeter, by Tilly Lander Williams

If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s the importance of connection and community. There are gems in every neighbourhood who go that extra mile to help others and spread joy and kindness. I can think of several people in our city who tick these boxes, but today I am shining a light on the keepers of the Little Free Libraries. 

I chatted with Rachel, who runs the Little Free Library at Hillside Gardens. Rachel, a life-long booklover, set up the library in 2019 after moving with her family to Westclyst. “[On] a new-build estate, it’s hard to get that sense of community when people have just moved in, and they don’t yet know each other. There’s lots of children and young families here, and I thought it would be a wasted opportunity not to have something there.” Rachel received advice from Cori, who runs the Little Free Library at Hill Barton, and support from the Parish Council and Barratt Homes. Age UK charity Men in Sheds kindly crafted the library box and a beautiful bench. Since then, it has been adored by all age groups in her community, from toddlers to the elderly. 

If you love books, but you haven’t yet discovered a Little Free Library, then you are in for a treat! There are several scattered around our city. Some are registered (these I have listed below), and some are independent (if you spot any, please tag #exploringexeter – we’d love to find them all). The simple idea behind the libraries is to ‘take a book and share a book.’ 

rachel little libraries

During its little life, the library has adapted to a lot of change. In the first lockdown, it became a food pantry holding essential tins and packets for residents. Later on in the year, it reopened with a hand sanitiser so that everyone could enjoy the books while keeping safe. But at the start of this year, the library faced its most heart-breaking challenge after being cruelly vandalised. This was a terrible shock to the residents, who quickly rallied around to restore their much-loved library. It is now up and running and able to provide happiness once again. A recent weekend saw a dinosaur theme – much to the delight of the children and some grown-ups – and throughout Spring, it is housing a selection of seeds for budding gardeners to swap and grow. This library may be little, but the difference it has made to its neighbourhood is huge!

seeds at the Little Free Libraries

“I love doing it,” says Rachel. “It brings me so much joy and seeing all the children skipping up and just getting a book and sitting on the bench and reading with their parents…it’s so lovely. The amount of people who use it is amazing, and people are so generous with donating books. [They] really think of it as a community library, which is just what I wanted it to be.”

Ready to find your nearest Little Free Library? Check out the map below (and don’t forget to let us know if you find any more at #exploringexeter!)

  • Wrefords Little Free Library, Wrefords Close
  • Ladysmith Road Little Free Library, 1 Ladysmith Road
  • 2nd Exeter Scout Group Little Free Library, South Lawn Terrace, Heavitree
  • Hill Barton Vale Little Free Library, Melrose Ave.
  • Hillside Gardens Little Free Library

Click the link for more info on Little Free Libraries including where to find them and how to set up your own (go on, you know you want to!)

To find out more about Men in Sheds head here.

About the Author, Tilly Lander Williams

Tilly’s Exeter story starts with an exhibition of The World of Beatrix Potter at The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in the early 90s. As a little girl, Exeter won her over there and then, especially with its proximity to the sea and moor. Tilly now lives in the countryside outskirts, with her husband, two daughters and their various animals. She can mostly be found writing or curled up with a book at home, or walking, swimming and exploring Devon with her family. Tilly loves attending literary events and keeping up to date with the latest books and writing news. She has recently written her first novel.


More articles by Tilly:

Exeter Library: an afternoon with Jill Mansell & Special Guests Libby Page and Emma Cooper.

Exeter Library opens its doors in the evening for Library Lates

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