Good neighbours: The John Rylands Research Institute and Library and Wood Street Mission

The University of Manchester has partnered with a local charity to make cultural experiences accessible for some of the region's most disadvantaged residents.

The John Rylands Research Institute and Library, our Grade I-listed neo-gothic library, has played a key role in preserving the history of child poverty in Manchester and Salford.

The Rylands’s archives hold much of the remarkable collection of Wood Street Mission, a charity founded more than 150 years ago to support low-income families in the two cities.

Today, the Rylands and Mission have formed a new relationship to creating meaningful, cultural experiences for the children and families helped by the charity.

Founded for the people

The Rylands and Wood Street Mission sit just a minute away from one another in central Manchester. Both institutions were purposely founded next to Deansgate, once a poor and disreputable part of the city, to allow working people access to the learning and services that they offered. Historically, the organisations sought to improve and inspire Manchester’s inhabitants through religion and knowledge.

Caretakers of history

The Rylands archives are a treasure trove of the Mission's history and offer a fascinating glimpse into Manchester and Salford’s social past.

This year the Rylands will receive additions to the archives, including oral history recordings and photographs. Two MA students from the University's Institute of Cultural Practices will be delving through these records, cataloguing them and finding new ways to share their findings with researchers and the public.

St Anne’s Sea Side Holiday Camp c 1900

Wood Street Mission today

The number of children living in low-income families in the UK has increased in the past decade, with the problem particularly acute in the deprived areas of major cities.

150 years after it was founded, Wood Street Mission is still working to improve the lives of poor children living in Manchester and Salford. The charity provides a range of services, from free school uniforms, bedding and baby equipment, to an annual donation of Christmas presents to families who otherwise may not be able to give gifts.

The charity has a particular focus on reading, as improving literacy rates can have a profound effect on the life chances of children raised in deprived areas. Wood Street Mission runs book fairs in schools and community spaces to give books to children who might not have access to them at home.

The Rylands in the community

The Rylands and Wood Street Mission share a belief in the power of books to change a child’s life and the importance of magical childhood experiences for every child.

In line with Manchester’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature, the two institutions have been working together on initiatives to introduce the Library to the children that Wood Street Mission supports.

The first event in that partnership was in 2019; children and families had the opportunity to explore the Rylands, spot the famous dragon sculptures and enjoy a storytelling session in the magnificent Historic Reading Room.

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