‘IF you’re shaped by your community, you need to have those conversations with your community.”

Jenny Layfield, chief executive of Explore York, which provides the city's public library and archive service, sat down with The Press at the end of a calendar year in which it became a National Portfolio Organisation with Arts Council of England.

The national body has provided £660,000 of funding over three years and the Explore boss explained how this funding will help the mutual, independent organisation and its 15 sites across the city to empower creativity in trusted spaces.

York Press: Jenny Layfield has been in post since January 2023Jenny Layfield has been in post since January 2023 (Image: Supplied)

Jenny said: “The funding has enabled us to release that sense of community participation and creation.

“It enables the type of work that we’re doing in Tang Hall Explore (where auditions for a localised radio play project History Misbehaves brought together York playwright Paul Birch and director Kate Valentine to collaborate with historians, folklore, archive and images from the area’s past – including images and stories about the speedway track and local icons), enabling us to support local community participation artists because we’ve got the money coming in to pay them to do the work they need to do.

“We can open up avenues of creativity for our communities that come to Explore and it’s also about our communities telling us what they need.

“You pull them together and get this amazing creative outpouring which links people even more closely to their place, and their archive.”

Explore gets two-thirds of its income from a City of York Council contract and has to raise the balance itself and Jenny said everything they do raise allows them to do extra things that are transformative.

York Press: An artist participant at Explore York reading cafe exhibiting work for Dandelion Arts 'This is Us' exhibition in NovemberAn artist participant at Explore York reading cafe exhibiting work for Dandelion Arts 'This is Us' exhibition in November (Image: Kevin Glenton)

Larger-scale projects like the Joy Bringers appeal this Christmas send a message about fundraising and there are individual moments which provide mutual support for Explore and local artists.

The company is having a conversation with one of the participant artists from autumn’s 'This is Us' exhibition of artwork at York Explore’s reading café about selling cards portraying her work.

Jenny said: “We’re enablers – we sit in some kind of hub and spoke model where we’re creating these networks and we’ve recruited a Community Engagement Archivist whose role will be to link in with local history groups and start to build those networks.

“If you’re shaped by your community, you need to have those conversations with your community – we’re almost the place that has this web around it that enables people to come together and do it.”

Three of the Explore sites – Acomb, York and Tang Hall – are being family hubs as part of a pilot for a City of York Council project for Raise York – places that people come to and feel comfortable.

The chief executive said her stand out moment of the year – her first in post – came when the English Touring Opera came to Acomb Explore and put on a production of The Wish Gatherer inside the library.

In October, Jenny told the council’s children, culture and communities scrutiny committee about how audiences heard ‘amazing voices booming round their library’ in the community's safe space.

Jenny told the committee ‘the child’s face during the performance will have done something for him, for having access to that, and having access to that in Acomb.’

Jenny said: “I’ve have never felt or seen anything quite like that – and they’re coming back in April 2024.

“I suppose it was one of those moments where you just see what you do in a way that changes your whole perception.

“You realise this is different, we are different because this is this child’s library, he can come here and be left by his parents and that’s safe, and look at what he’s experienced.

“It may have had an impact on him, but it certainly had an impact on me.”