Toy libraries at risk of closure after council funding cut
By Katie Johnson
Toy libraries in Docklands, Carlton, and Kensington are facing closure after the City of Melbourne chose not to fund their Social Innovations Grant application.
As a not-for-profit, volunteer-run organisation which lends toys to families who need them, the libraries depend completely on short-term grants from the council.
Melbourne Communities Toy Library president Emily Corcoran said that with a lack of permanent funding this issue has been a long time coming.
“We’ve been funded through a series of short-term grants with the idea that we would eventually become self-sufficient which was never going to work for a toy library,” Ms Corcoran said.
“Libraries are not-for profit – we’re having to charge substantial member fees and are still not running at a profit.”
The 20-year-old Kensington branch has recently been forced to shut after the council was unable to find a new location while the new Kensington Recreation Centre is redeveloped.
Ms Corcoran said that this was not a matter of council being “malicious”, but showed that there was a lack of interest in ensuring the toy libraries survived.
“It’s like we operate as a silo and have been told that we need to sort ourselves out and operate independent from council,” Ms Corcoran said.
“There’s a lack of knowledge and care here, and a lack of understanding about the benefits of the library.”
Having served the community for the past 20 years, the libraries have been a crucial resource for inner city families who need access to toys.
The libraries operate as a source of connection for immigrant families, and also those concerned about the environmental waste of purchasing large, plastic toys.
Ms Corcoran said the popularity of the libraries showed how many families valued them.
“With our last round of funding we opened the Docklands branch, and despite COVID challenges and the space only being open four hours a week, we’ve had a flood of 50 families who regularly access it,” Ms Corcoran said.
“We’re all about bringing the community together through play so we want to provide a point of connection for parents where they can come together, meet other people and relax.”
“It’s a great resource to combat some of the mental health issues parents face.”
Ms Corcoran said that she has received many emails of support from people who used the libraries including foster carers, maternal child health nurses, new immigrant families and workers in the CBD who saw the value in the service.
“Families in the inner city are time poor, have less space and are concerned about the environmental impact toy waste can cause so they have been lobbying council,” Ms Corcoran said.
As it stands, the toys from the now-closed Kensington Toy Library will now need to be “piled high” at the Carlton site which has a two-year licence.
But Ms Corcoran said there was a clear solution which the council hadn’t properly considered.
“With all of the recently closed businesses leaving empty shops in the CBD, council could easily make us part of the street level activation of shopping strips,” Ms Corcoran said.
“If we’re given a shop front, we’re a low-cost way to being families and the community back to the city and spending their money locally.”
A City of Melbourne spokesperson said they were working with the toy library to find a new location for the Kensington site.
“Melbourne Community Toy Libraries applied for funding under the Social Partnerships program for a project that would deliver a facilitated playgroup for local families,” the spokesperson said.
“The project was not recommended for funding as council offers a similar playgroup program that has vacancies available.”
“We recognise the important role toy libraries play in our community and are working with the organisation to help find a new location for the Kensington toy library.” •