A look back at 2023

Thursday, 21 December, 2023

As 2023 comes to close, we thought we'd look back at what has been the most important, at times challenging but ultimately the most exciting year for ASCEL as we transformed into the IPSO charity.

Although the work to get here actually started all the way back in 2019 under then chair, Stella Thebridge it was not until October 2022 that we were successful in being offered the IPSO funding from ACE and the trustees put their mind to the recruitment of the CEO.

Adam Tulloch was announced as the first ASCEL CEO in February. The Trustees were back in action through February and March, bringing together all the strands that were needed for ASCEL to become a fully functioning charity, ready for Adam to take up his post in April. Setting up HR, IT, Finance services and the necessary policies, it's been a steep learning curve for everyone involved!

Adam joined the National Committee in Berwick-upon-Tweed for his first meeting in May 2023. Berwick is the most Northerly authority, and it was enlightening to hear some of the issues in serving their very rural communities. If you would like to host a meeting at your library, do get in touch.

Every charity requires a strong and diverse Board of Trustees and finding the right people to take on this important role was a priority for the next couple of months.  We had some brilliant people apply for the role of trustees and we were delighted to have welcomed them officially onto the board at our AGM in November.

The Arts Council funding means that we now have a budget of £200,000 per year to develop our support services for libraries and embed quality children’s and young people’s engagement across the library sector with a new Executive Team.  In the summer Adam was joined by Lucy Banks and Sarah Gregory as Programme Manager and Management and Information Consultant in working towards ASCEL's new goals and ambitions.  The new team met for the first time in our new base at Wolverhampton Library.

The work has now started, and Lucy has been kept busy. “I can’t believe it’s only been five months since I started with ASCEL! In that time, we’ve assembled our member-led library team to start delivering the Youth Engagement Network programme. I’m especially thrilled we’re doing this work; it’s never been more important to listen to children, co-create with them and learn from their experiences, expertise and opinions. We’ve got eight public library services and one school library taking part in the pilot, and we’ll start the children-led activities in the new year. We’re also developing training that meaningfully supports you and your wider teams. The Skills Audit, which was completed by 89 members, gave insight into where your strengths lie, and the areas that may need development. This work links with both our HAF ‘train the trainer’ programme, which is supported by three public libraries, and our exploration of training pathways into the sector (alongside key partners). We need younger people to not only engage with our services but join our teams to shape the future of libraries across the country. “

Sarah has taken over the membership systems from Anna Simmons, freeing up a great deal of her time, thank you Anna.  (A quick reminder to return your 2023/24 subscription form for invoicing, before final red reminder emails go out in the new year!) As well as leading on the development of the new website.

We were all very sad when Adam had to step down as CEO in October. He brought dynamism, knowledge, insight and energy to the role and had put in so much work to progress our strategic plans, build the foundations of ASCEL as a charity, form a new Executive Team and consolidate our action plan. But before leaving, he led a strategy day in the beautiful Shrewsbury library with the new Trustee Board and the Executive team.

An interim CEO was swiftly put in place, and we were very pleased to welcome back Sarah Mears, a past ASCEL chair and the libraries Connected rep on our National Committee. With her extensive knowledge of the sector and leadership skills, she's been able to jump right in and start building on the strong base created by Adam. Sarah says she is delighted to be reconnecting with ASCEL for this interim period and has been so excited by the inspirational projects being developed by the team alongside ASCEL members.

We all came together for another amazing Conference in November, where we formally voted on the new constitution and officially appointed our new Trustees. You may have talked to our External Comms consultant, Bryony Bishop, who collected feedback and your glowing endorsements of ASCEL. We'll be using these quotes and clips in future marketing. Here's the first video, thanks for all your ASCEL love!

There was time for one more library visit when the executive team and new CEO met in Christmassy Manchester central library.

As the year draws to a close there is much to look back on and be proud of. Being Chair of a new organisation requires a lot of focus on the detail required, so I am enjoying this opportunity to take that step back and feel proud of all that we have achieved together.  One thing is for certain that we would not be in this positive place ready for 2024 without the support and dedication of so many people and partners so

Thank you to:

  • Those ASCEL committee members who stepped up as Trustees, learning on the job to get all the background work in place, alongside their demanding day jobs.
  • Sue Ball, Chris Myhill, Nina Simons, Krystal Vittles, Anna Simmons our treasurer who has spent so much time researching and setting up finance systems and myself, Annabel Gittins for taking on the unenviable role of Chair to steer the process.
  • To our wonderful new Trustees Sherilyn Pereira, Benedict Shaw, Mark Freeman, Kirsty Blyth, Nick Fuller and Fabienne Tannoh.
  • Our consultant Katie Peckacar for guiding us through the process and helping out as needed.
  • Our fantastic partners who have supported us through our first year – in particular Libraries Connected and Arts Council England
  • To Adam for setting up the charity and giving us such a strong base to work from, and Sarah Mears for taking over so effectively and carrying on his legacy.
  • To Lucy and Sarah for taking on new roles in a new organisation.
  • To Annie Everall, our Conference Consultant for putting together, what could be the best conference to date (although we say that every year!)

And of course, to you, our members - for your support, guidance and input over this whole process and for getting involved in surveys, focus groups and new research programmes as we make plans for the future.

Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year and I look forward to leading ASCEL through 2024.



Chair of Trustees