From a bare patch of land to a little book-lending service - the Castlecliff Library is open for business.

"We'd had a plan for years," library manager Pete Gray said. "It had been in previous long-term plans, and there was money in the previous long-term plan to do that - $300,000 to set it up but no actual money to run it.

"I knew that we would be having self-issue machines in our main library and it just occurred to me that actually we could set up a completely self-service library for a fraction of the cost and get out into the other suburbs of Whanganui that are really not serviced by the council at all."

Pete Gray, Whanganui Libraries Manager. Photograph / Georgie Ormond.
Pete Gray, Whanganui Libraries Manager. Photograph / Georgie Ormond.

All that was needed was a partner business with premises.

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The secretary of community organisation Progress Castlecliff, James Barron, organised a small building and an empty section next to the Citadel Cafe. As a registered charity, Progress Castlecliff advocates and works on behalf of Castlecliff to bring improvements to the suburb - like libraries.

Barron originally planned to put the library inside the cafe but the previous owners weren't keen.

"It wasn't going to work in the existing space but we had this section on the corner and I thought 'well if we do nothing with it, we learn nothing'. It's something we can experiment with," he said.

Castlecliff, Whanganui is a suburb undergoing gentle gentrification. Photograph / Georgie Ormond.
Castlecliff, Whanganui is a suburb undergoing gentle gentrification. Photograph / Georgie Ormond.

The library project is part of a bigger initiative to rejuvenate the seaside suburb of Castlecliff. The council has finished upgrades to the main street after lobbying from locals.

"You can't change a whole suburb," Barron said. "No one has money to do that, not the council or anything. But you can change a small part of it and those changes ripple out amazingly.

"Every house along this block has or is being improved. Indeed, there's been two new builds on the block. That's the kind of change you can make by making aspirational change."

The library project wouldn't have been possible without a dedicated team of volunteers.

"We decided to get a team of people who weren't builders," project manager Trevor Sammons said. "And use my knowledge and experience to perhaps help other people learn how to do things."

Trevor Sammons, Project Manager of the new Castlecliff Library. Photograph / Georgie Ormond
Trevor Sammons, Project Manager of the new Castlecliff Library. Photograph / Georgie Ormond

Malcolm Whitlock owns the neighbouring Citadel Cafe.

"Local boys put in a lot of work to see it come to fruition. It's pretty cool for the area."

Whanganui District Council is looking for other like-minded partners to bring libraries to other suburbs.

"Reading is absolutely the core skill that is required to get by in the modern world," Gray said. "If you can't read your life's going to be tougher, you're going to have to be smarter, you're going to have to be more determined to succeed.

"Like any skill, you only practice stuff that's fun so our job at the library is to help people improve their literacy by giving them stuff they want to read and the whole community benefits from a more literate, more capable population."

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