New Suffolk library chief takes over as service focuses on communities

Bruce Leeke and Alison Wheeler MBE. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Bruce Leeke and Alison Wheeler MBE. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Suffolk’s library service has a new chief executive after Bruce Leeke took over from Alison Wheeler who has taken early retirement six years after setting up the new organisation.

And as Ms Wheeler left the organisation that was set up as the county council was looking to “divest” itself of services like libraries, she said it was now in a strong position to move forward.

Suffolk Libraries was set up as an Industrial and Provident Society in 2012 to take over the running of 44 libraries with Ms Wheeler at the helm.

Over the last six years the number of library branches has remained the same – 44 – although a couple of branches have moved to new premises: “In both cases the new premises are larger” Ms Wheeler is quick to point out.

The focus of the organisation has evolved over recent years – but Ms Wheeler said its role at the heart of Suffolk communities remained unchanged.

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She said: “Our libraries are real community hubs. We have changed the way we operate – and I’m really pleased that the staff have accepted that change.”

Libraries are now the centre of many activities, from parent and toddler groups to Dungeons and Dragons clubs to social clubs for older people.

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Mr Leeke has moved into the library service after working as a regional director for St John Ambulance. It is his first job with the library service – but he is a regular user and is rapidly getting to grips with his new role.

He said: “So far I’ve visited a third of the libraries in Suffolk and I aim to get around the rest as quickly as I can – I am very much looking forward to getting around the rest as soon as possible.”

He was determined to maintain the libraries’ community focus – and said the five-year funding programme offered by the county council gave him the ability to plan the future of the service.

“It is fantastic that there is such a strong community focus to the libraries and that is clearly something that we would like to develop.”

His most recent visit to the library was with his young children to choose some books for them: “I think we went out with a few Fireman Sam books that went down very well.

“And I shared parental leave with my wife when our children were born – so I’ve taken them along to parent and children groups. Sometimes I was the only dad there!”

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