Acocks Green Focus Group’s Nomination for Village Hero

March 31st, 2010

Mike at Acocks Carnival 2009 - photo by Robert Jones.

Voting is now closed. Results will be announced next week, it seems. Thanks to everyone who voted for Mike. When we got a notice about nominations for village hero we confess we looked around to see if anyone had rescued any babies from burning buildings etc lately. However, when we understood that what was really wanted was someone who had done a lot for the village of Acocks Green then the choice become an obvious no-brainer for The Focus Group. It has to be Mike Byrne, Acocks Green Community Librarian, who, we understand, will be leaving us soon. Many people are aware that we owe much to Mike, but there are still many more who have barely heard of him. Here is part of Mike’s account of the work on the library that took place in 1995, work that he presided over in person, working hard to ensure both the survival and continued viable future of this striking 1932 building.

‘By the mid-1990s […] It was clear that the Library could no longer present an up-to-date attractive service in its present form, particularly to families and children, and the decision was made to undertake a comprehensive refurbishment of the building.

Local and senior librarians had put much thought into the redesign of the Library […] The Library is now comfortable, open, welcoming and bright […]

Adult Library, Radial Bookcases

Original Oak Bookcases, loving retained and polished in Acocks Green library refurbishment

Most of the oak furniture has been retained in a new study area, designed to look, with its rows of long oak tables and oak chairs, like a traditional library space. Similarly, the shelves for adult lending present an attractive radial design, with a long run of shelving on the walls. An extended counter in oak, skilfully designed in the style of the original, is the centrepiece.

The New Oak Desk

[…]

The building has been thought out anew as a set of distinct spaces, with their own functions. The study area in particular can be emptied of furniture, and the railway models there moved aside to allow concerts and other library events to be staged there out of hours […] The library now hosts a range of advice services in the community room as well as educational and cultural events and meetings. It is truly a comprehensive resource.’

You can read the rest of this story on the Acocks Green History website here

Since this work, the library has not only enjoyed status as the most popular, best used, library ,for a long way round, with impressive visitor figures, it has also been a central part of community life. Mike has worked tirelessly at organising and hosting local events. This is a picture of a recent musical evening, one of the many organised by Mike

Musical Event: 'Swan Song' organised by Mike (By kind permission of Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum)

However, Mike is much more than a very good community librarian. Mike is also our local historian. Here, by kind permission of David Treadwell, Chair of Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum, is a picture of Mike introducing a speaker at a recent AGHS event:

Mike addresses Acocks Green History Society

David took a picture of the audience, showing their concentration, as well:

A rapt audience for Mike's talk

Below is a screen shot of the index page of Acocks Green History Society website – just a small part of ‘A’ for Acocks Green. This is a very valuable resource for anyone who is interested in the features of Acocks Green and, even more particularly in conserving features of Acocks Green. There is a huge range of large clear photographs of important buildings and landmarks, in Acocks Green and surrounding areas, and notes about their history. There is a collected wealth of, often, otherwise hard to find documentary materials, interviews with local people (some of them, alas, now no longer with us.) and much, much more. Clearly hours and hours of research have gone into this site. No other suburb in the city has a site so rich. This all Mike’s own work in his capacity as secretary and webmaster of Acocks Green History Society. (His History talks will also be sadly missed.)

We apologise for the slight blur here, but we suggest you visit http://aghs.jimdo.com/ (link straight through here) to see what we mean for yourself!

This is not to forget, also, Mike’s authoritative book, on Acocks Green, which is virtually set reading for any would-be local conservationist: Acocks Green (Archive Photographs) by Michael Byrne, The History Press, 1997 – in print: local bookshops, or Amazon, or borrow it from the library, of course.

When the founder members of The Focus Group wanted some advice and information about the history of The Green (when we were ‘saving’ it, back in 2004) it was Mike to whom we turned, and to Mike’s book and Mike’s website. After we become formally constituted as Acocks Green Focus Group we continued to research and educate ourselves about Acocks Green history and buildings using the resources Mike has provided.

Mike will be leaving us at a difficult time for Acocks Green. A promised Conservation Area scheme has been withdrawn for the foreseeable future. We have several local buildings under threat, and the famous Birmingham Landscape practice plans, for the improved layout of Acocks Green, are also now on indefinite hold. Perhaps the best tribute we could offer to Mike would be to take the lead that he gave with his work and to carry on working to ensure that our area is treated with respect.

How to vote for Mike in the Village Hero nominations? You can pick up a form from Acocks Green Library until April 7 – so hurry! Or you can download one here In the reasons box, if you agree with what we say, but are in a rush, we suggest you just put ‘See Acocks Green Focus Group nomination.’

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