Birmingham announces Shakespeare Library revamp

Birmingham has launched a new scheme to restore the city’s Shakespeare Memorial Library (BSM).

A major £1.7 million project, backed by the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council, will unite the Shakespeare archive and library, founded in 1864, with the George Dawson Collection (GDC), a wealth of documents relating to the nonconformist preacher, lecturer and activist, who founded the Shakespeare Library.

The National Heritage Lottery Fund has granted £675,200 to the project, called Everything to Everybody, which has also secured funding from composer Mike Gibbs and History West Midlands. The idea is to re-animate the Shakespeare Library, which is currently housed in the city’s iconic main library building, in time for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

The project will involve family days, open days, workshops, community-curated exhibitions, digital exhibitions and neighbourhood productions. The project will also give volunteers the opportunity to acquire new skills as they help to digitise the collections and work with community groups and partners to organise events.

A plethora of cultural organisations have signed up to support the scheme, including The Royal Shakespeare Company, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Birmingham Rep, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Desiblitz, Sense Arts for people with complex disabilities, the Canal and River Trust, the Muath Centre, the Jewellery Quarter Research Trust and Polish Millennium House.

Birmingham-born actor Adrian Lester, who is project patron, said: “There are so many brilliant, talented, curious people in Birmingham, who, because of the Heritage Fund’s decision will get the chance to explore the work of our greatest writer like no other generation before them.  Creating access changes everything”.

Professor Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, said: “We are proud to work with Birmingham City Council to renew George Dawson’s ambitious legacy of opening up Shakespeare and elite culture to absolutely everyone today. Dawson was a 'trailblazingly democratic' figure who helped to make Birmingham a real force in world culture. He was an inspiration for our founder Joseph Chamberlain, who established the University of Birmingham as England’s first civic university in 1900”.


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