Sir Derek Jacobi leads festive celebrations at Belsize Community Library

Sir Derek Jacobi with
Dr Athol Hughes, 93, the oldest member of the library. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Sir Derek Jacobi with Dr Athol Hughes, 93, the oldest member of the library. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Acting legend Sir Derek Jacobi led festive celebrations on Sunday at the Belsize Community Library Christmas Fair, which marked its survival since it was threatened with closure more than a year ago.

The 75-year-old, who lives in Belsize Park and is starring in BBC One’s Last Tango in Halifax, spoke of the importance of keeping libraries alive and the central role they played in introducing him to literature when he was a child.

Growing up in a household with no books, Sir Derek said it was only at the age of six and through a visit to the local library that he discovered the pleasure of reading.

Library volunteer Elaine Hallgarten, who lives opposite the library in Antrim Grove, said there was “no better place to tell his story”.

“He was wonderful, charming and just so interesting,” she said.

“We had so many young people come to the fair that it was great to see them – like Sir Derek aged six – being introduced to their local library.

“We are still here despite our loss in funding and Sir Derek’s support has been a great boost.”

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The event marked a significant moment for the library, which was in danger of being forced to close when the council withdrew its funding last year.

Now, supported by volunteers and the Winchester Project youth charity in Swiss Cottage, it has bounced back and this year’s celebratory fair was opened by its oldest and youngest members – 93-year-old Dr Athol Hughes and eight-month-old Joshua Hillairaud.

Sir Derek announced the winners of the raffle, with top prizes including a 13lb turkey, a Christmas hamper and bottles of champagne.

With a “Great Belsize Bake Off” also generating money through the sale of cakes, the fair raised £1,500 for new books.

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