Sharing what we’ve learned

FOLIO is committed to sharing what we’ve learned (and continue to learn) about supporting libraries, being a charity and helping build community spirit. This page documents some of the resources we find very useful, and includes some thoughts that might help if you are considering setting up a community group or charity.

Finding support as a Friends Of a library group
You can search the Charity Commission website for registered charities who are have the words “Friends of” and “Library” – this brings up lots of groups, many of which have websites and contact details. The ones we’ve contacted for support and inspiration have been very generous – a tremendously useful website with a weekly digest you can sign up to, full of library developments in the UK – a registered charity set up to support friends and users of libraries is especially useful for groups who are running libraries, rather than supporting libraries where there are still paid librarians.

Finding funding
Our most often used source of funding bodies:
“Funding Central provides unique access to thousands of grants, contracts and loan finance opportunities from local, national and international funding sources, all in one place, through one search.”
You’ll need to set up a subscription, but this is free for small organisations (ie those with an annual income under £100,000)
Once subscribed you can receive a very useful weekly e-bulletin with lots of funding opportunities.
Sandwell Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is “a charitable organisation based in Sandwell which supports Sandwell’s Voluntary and Community Sector, comprised of voluntary-run community groups, charities, not-for-profit businesses, faith communities and social enterprises.” Although SCVO has a Sandwell focus, it may well still be useful for other groups, especially in the West Midlands.

Ask your local council if they have a community support / community development officer who can help third sector organisations develop. Birmingham City Council does have such officers and if you’d like us to make an introduction, please get in touch.

Birmingham Voluntary Service Council is “the primary infrastructure support organisation for Birmingham’s charities and community groups”

Becoming a charity
FOLIO’s reasoning for going for charitable status was informed by these considerations:

  • With a view to long term planning we wanted to be able to apply for large grants ( 6 figure sums) and generally this size of grant is only available to groups with registered charity status
  • Registered charity status gives authenticity, helps garner trust from outside, sense of gravitas. Given our situation – new, politically sensitive – we had to show we meant business, and getting charitable status was one way of doing that.
  • Other things that also suited us about getting registered charity status

  • potential to gather gift aid on donations from private individuals
  • reduction in business rates available to charities
  • it wasn’t a reason for going for charitable status, but it was definitely a benefit of it: the process really made us think about who we are as an organisation and what we want to do
  • Not every Friends of Group will wish to become a charity. Things that need to be considered about going for charity status:

  • potential administrative burden
  • trustees cannot be paid
  • being a charity can restrict what you do

  • FOLIO’s experience

    June 2017 we wrote our first constitution – drawing heavily on the constitutions of Friends of library groups as available on the Charity Commission website. We had to delimit our purpose – what we wanted to achieve – the reason it exists. This core purpose is described in the constitution as “charitable objects”. has some advice on how to write charitable objects.
    At this point we weren’t a charity.
    July 2018 we first attempted to register for charitable status, as a CIO (charitable incorporated organisation). There are other forms of charity structure – and you’ll need to consider which is right for you (some advice here
    In September 2018 the Commission got back to us with objections to our application – there was some misunderstanding about what we wanted to do (particularly complicated by the fact that we were setting up a café at the same time), but crucially they felt our objects were “not exclusively charitable as drafted”.
    October 2018, following a couple of pro bono consultations with specialist charity lawyers we resubmitted our application to become a charity, addressing the concerns raised by the commission, and clarifying our relationship to the café.
    At the start of November 2018 the Commission got back to us and were still not quite satisfied with our application, still having concerns that our objects were not exclusively charitable, this despite our objects having been approved by the specialist charity lawyers. Helpfully, however, this time the commission suggested wording they would be happy with for our objects. We accepted their proposed word, and resubmitted our application accordingly.
    27 November 2018 – we finally got charitable status!

    What was hard about this process:
    Some of what we originally wanted to do, we had to reconsider (or find different ways to do) because a charity must have exclusively charitable purposes eg art gallery, archives, café ie everything a charity does has to be charitable in the LEGAL sense (which is much tighter than one might think – just because and action benefits the community it isn’t necessarily charitable in the legal sense). Also we found that the commission wanted things to be very tight – nothing imprecise (eg “arts”). We also got lots of conflicting advice – we had advice from a BCC officer, a charity lawyer and still we weren’t making progress.

    We think this is for two reasons

  • Since the problems with the charity Kids Company, the commission have really tightened up on their procedures making it much hard to become a charity
  • FOLIO’s circumstances (being linked to a statutory body, and the the fact that we were setting up a business at the same time) made it complicated.
  • More generally you might find these links useful:

    Other things

    Digital Storytellers

    Digital Storytellers
    is a major new initiative from FOLIO Sutton Coldfield, funded by an Awards for All grant from the Big Lottery.

    Digital Storytellers will share their favourite stories, and bring books from the library to life in a digital exploration of Sutton Coldfield library. The sessions will include drama games, creative writing and digital technology workshops, and are perfect for creative young people, especially those aged 10-14, and who have interest in English, Drama, and learning about digital media.

    Participants are encouraged to sign up for all eight sessions (see below), plus the public celebration in November.

    Digital Storytellers will host a taster session on August 22nd from 10am, with a relaxed drop-in workshop for young people that runs all day, playing around with all sorts of technology from 360 cameras to steadicams and augmented reality. Attendance at this taster day is entirely optional and does not commit you to the rest of the project (though of course we hope you’ll be excited by what you see and want to sign up straight away!)

    Course dates
    Sat, 15 Sep 2018 10am – 12pm
    Sat, 22 Sep 2018 10am – 12pm
    Sat, 29 Sep 2018 10am – 12pm
    Sat, 6 Oct 2018 10am – 12pm
    Sat, 13 Oct 2018 10am – 12pm
    Sat, 20 Oct 2018 10am – 12pm
    Tue, 30 Oct 2018 10am – 4pm
    Wed, 31 Oct 2018 10am – 4pm

    Tickets for this course are free but to become a Digital Storyteller your place must be booked on the course. To book, please visit and select “Digital Storytellers” on the left-hand side.

    Today we are 1!

    What a difference a year makes!

    Today, June 13, FOLIO Sutton Coldfield is celebrating it’s first birthday safe in the knowledge that Sutton Coldfield library is no longer under threat of closure. Indeed the library is more vibrant and busier than ever before and this is as a result of some amazing partnership working.

    Sutton Coldfield library is a special place, bursting with ideas, stories and activities, a space that has become a vibrant community hub that is attracting all ages of residents from the diverse communities who live in Sutton Coldfield. By working with Sutton Coldfield Town Council and Birmingham City Council FOLIO have been able to establish a very exciting play-café, Little Green Bookworm at the heart of the library. We have been successful in achieving funding from the Local Innovations Fund, Sutton Coldfield Charitable Trust, Birmingham Airport Community Trust Fund, Wylde Green Rotary, Sutton Coldfield Town Council, Active Citizens, the M6 toll Community Fund and the Lottery which has enabled us not only to set up a fantastic resource for families but also provide a wide range of activities to attract people of all ages into the library.

    Since we have been established the four trustees along with a band of brilliant volunteers have provided arts and crafts workshops, author visits, the Flourish! programme, talks from Sutton Coldfield Park Rangers, a board games session and much more. In the future we are looking forward to establishing a Code Club and a Lego Club. FOLIO runs monthly meetings where the elders in our community, The Elderberries, can come together in a safe space within the library, to share memories and reminisce about times gone by.

    All of our activities and workshops have been as a direct result of community consultation and we are proud that our varied programme has been designed by the community for the community.

    A video with some of the highlights of the past year

    On our first birthday we would like to thank everyone who has supported us, we are particularly grateful to our funders, volunteers and the staff from the library and Little Green Bookworm. FOLlO Sutton Coldfield was set up to save our library but it has far surpassed this aim by creating a rich, resilient, creative and nurturing community resource in our wonderful Sutton Coldfield library. It really is a dream come true!

    Back when Sutton Coldfield was under threat of closure we were delighted when former Children’s Laureate sent us a message of support:

    And on the occasion of our first birthday he’s sent us another one:

    As we move into our second year, we’d love to have your involvement. Do get in touch and be part of a wonderful success story!