In a quiet corner of Paisley’s Tannahill Centre there’s a birthday party happening.

Balloons and streamers bearing the legend ‘Happy 40th’ adorn the walls, while a buffet and two cakes wait in a back room. And the guest of honour? Well, it’s the quiet corner itself.

The Ferguslie Park Community Library was opened in 1983 and has been serving its community ever since. The oft-repeated mantra on this day of felicitations is “more than just books”.

Ferguslie Park was found to be Scotland’s most deprived area in both 2012 and 2016, and in the most recent study, in 2020, the third most deprived area in the country.

The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation put its employment rate at 28 per cent, with 39% of people classed as income deprived. Just 1% of the population has attended university, with school pupil attendance at 69% compared to close to 93% for Scotland as a whole.


Numbers on a spreadsheet don’t tell the story of a community though, and Ferguslie Park Community Library is the beating heart of what is a proud area.

Its services are vital for locals, with many standing outside its locked doors during lockdown to get internet access, the WiFi having remained switched on.

For four decades the library has been providing ‘more than just books’. Its walls are covered in information about mental health, support services, and what to do if you get caught in the grip of a loan shark.

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James McGrath, library team supervisor for OneRen, says: “When you go home and reflect on what you’ve achieved that day, you could have changed someone’s life.

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“They might have come in looking for a bit of information and you go that extra mile to access that information for them, or it might be a child who’s struggling with homework and we can send them home knowing they’ve learned.

“All the children know the staff, so if they’re struggling in any part of their schooling, for any reason, they’ll come and speak to us.

“It gets people out too, we could be the only person someone speaks to that day, that week – that month, even.”

Since its inception the facility has been providing for everyone in the community, as 75-year-old Margaret Canning, Ferguslie Park Community Library’s first-ever customer, recalls.

The Herald: Margaret Canning, 75, was among the first customers at the libraryMargaret Canning, 75, was among the first customers at the library (Image: OneRen)

She says: “I’d never even been in a library. I was terrified of the idea, I thought in a library you had to sit straight-backed and never make a sound.

“But I had nine kids and we thought, ‘we’ll see if there’s anything the weans are interested in’.

“Then a wee bit later we thought, ‘why don’t we start a mums and toddlers group?’. It started from there, then they started getting youth workers in.

“The parents and everyone were just so involved, we had to do a playscheme because people were working and had nobody to watch their weans and it was too much money to get babysitters.

“We’d do the full six weeks of the summer holidays, the Christmas holidays, the Easter holidays and after school for people who didn’t have the money to put their kids into after-school clubs or things like that.

“We called it cradle to grave, we had wee tots as well.

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“We decided we’d run a bingo to raise funds to supply the youth workers with extra money, because they didn’t get a lot of funding. We ended up with 200 kids.

“It was the community that made it because they supported us in everything that we did.

“With the money we raised from the bingo we’d buy more equipment for the kids, things which libraries didn’t have.

“We’d put on shows and the whole community would come out and support the library, and then in turn the kids would deliver books to the old people who couldn’t get out. We used to sit and make the old folks tea when they came in.

“We used to make Halloween costumes and give them out to the families who had a lot of weans, if they had five they’d get five costumes for £5 then we’d wash them, hang them out and hire them out again.

“We used to have a lot of teenagers come in too, we got them a café opened to save them from hanging about on the streets.

The Herald: Ferguslie Park Community Library, PaisleyFerguslie Park Community Library, Paisley (Image: OneRen)

“We had about 13 volunteers, and some of them would take the kids on trips or take them swimming.

“We’d take them down to Saltcoats or Ayr, we’d give them a wee bit of money to spend to get a poke of chips or something – because we had the funds we’d raised from the bingo and other things it didn’t cost the library anything.

“There was just so much achieved through the library.”

Mrs Canning was among the volunteers at the library, which in 1987 was named the second best in the country – meaning a trip to the Houses of Parliament.

She says: “We were to go down and I said I couldn’t go on a train. They phoned back and said they would fly us there and back and I said, ‘I’ve never been on a plane’.

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“We got taken to the House of Commons and I was presented with a trophy by Charles Dickens’ great-grandaughter.”

Today the library is still helping to foster a community spirit. A writing group of all ages and backgrounds meets every Thursday, sharing stories, poems and more.

Greig Hepson, whose crime novel Serving The Community was written during his time with the group, laughs: “Some nights there’s a lot of stuff on the table and we read it, other nights we’re a tea and blether group!

“It’s great to get together once a week and everybody writes different stuff. It’s uplifting.”

The group ranges from Candice Haston, 24, who spots her fiancée in one of the memory scrapbooks on display, to Cathy O’Neill who was born during the Second World War and began her writing career with slate and chalk recording family history for her younger sister.

As well as writing scripts the group often perform them too, with Mrs O’Neill cast as an old woman who lives in a shoe in one such production.

She says: “I was just out of hospital, I’d had a stroke and I kept having to ask what the lines were.

“It came out not bad, but do you know what they did to me? They threw me in an oven and I came out all black! They covered me in real soot and it took forever to wash off! That was just cruelty…”

Mrs O’Neill also attends a knitting group at the library on Monday,

Davina Hepson says: “There’s a lady who’s blind and thought she’d never knit again.

“But because she’s got the support of another couple of people who knit, they can help her with that.

“She was absolutely convinced that she couldn’t knit again but I said to her, ‘see when you were knitting? Did you watch the telly when you were doing it?’.

“So it’s just really in case she makes a wee mistake there are people who can help set her right.

“There’s just such a broad range of stuff you can do in the library, there’s none of this ‘shhh!’.”

The writing group have a Christmas night out every year, and even when Covid forced meetings to stop their bond remained as strong as ever.

Mr Hepson says: “We always knew that some day we’d get back together.”

“There’s like a thread between us now,” Mrs O’Neill agrees. “We’re like family.”

There’s a pause.

“Well… we are family,” her cousin Liz points out, as the rest of the table dissolves into laughter.

The rest of the room may not share quite so literal a familial connection, but as plates of cake are passed around everyone from a baby to an 82-year-old woman, they might as well.