Guest Blog: Human Library Waltham Forest

Published Thursday 7 November by Callum

In the latest issue of Waltham Forest News, some of the people who’ve made the London Borough of Culture 2019 programme such an amazing experience explain what it has meant to them.

Here, Bisi Oyekanmi, creator of Human Library Waltham Forest, talks about making connections through the project which saw residents become ‘human books’ to share their stories with others at events around the borough...

In early 2019, I wrote a short piece introducing my project, Human Library Waltham Forest. So much has happened since and I am proud to say there’s a growing community of human books in our borough.

There have been over 40 people who have volunteered their time and shared their life stories with members of the public with the sole aims of breaking barriers and making connections. And there have been some wonderful connections that have been made. Friendships have been formed and old friendships rekindled. I’ve witnessed numbers being exchanged, neighbours meeting for the first time despite living on the same street for a decade, and reading sessions going far beyond the 20-minute allocation.

As well as the connections being made, one of the most profound and somewhat unexpected outcomes from the Human Library is the confidence I’ve seen grow in the wonderful people who volunteered to be books. Whilst they volunteered to share their stories, some deeply personal and challenging, the process of talking to strangers and challenging themselves to be open and vulnerable, engage in dialogue and be open to a different perspective seemed to have an incredibly empowering effect.
I’m super proud to say the Human Library made a phenomenal impact. We’ve held five successful events in libraries across the borough and at Waltham Forest Mela and Chingfest

I wanted to bring people into libraries because I am a passionate advocate of libraries and I want to see people using them, for everything from studying to setting up a tech start-up to holding ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) conversation clubs to singing sessions for toddlers. The library is the heart of our communities and it’s there for us all at every stage of our lives. 

The Human Library Waltham Forest was funded by the London Borough of Culture 2019 Make it Happen Grants programme and was supported by the Legends of the Forest volunteers who acted as librarians at the events. The Human Library community has grown into a wonderful community of supportive, funny, interesting, local people. And I just love the fact that the Human Library brought together a wonderful group of people from all walks of life who challenged perceptions and made connections, and they all have one thing in common: Waltham Forest.