Big Issue Vendor

A Northampton couple are opening a ‘food library’ in their own home

Michael Mayhew and Laura Elliott are welcoming locals into their living room to use their extensive food book collection and try out their new skills in their kitchen

A pair of artists are doing their bit to tackle food insecurity, the climate crisis and the widespread closure of libraries all in one – by opening a library dedicated to food in their own home this weekend.

Michael Mayhew and Laura Elliott, from Northampton, say their collection of more than 400 books on growing, finding and preparing food will be available for anyone who wants to become a member.

They have also kitted out their kitchen, as well as building outdoor cooking facilities, so locals can try out some of the recipes they learn from the library’s books. It is hoped that this access will allow those with limited means and cooking craft the chance to boost their skills and their diet.

The Food Library

“The idea has been floating around our heads for a few years,” Mayhew told The Big Issue. “At one point we decided we would start growing food and that’s when the shelves started filling up with books.

“Restaurants are closing down because no one can afford rent on the high street. Then they started shutting libraries down. I think it’s sadly a real indication of what we value. We should really value those spaces – they’re little windows into our existence, sanctuaries full of ideas.”

The retired artist said that the closures pushed him to consider what he could do in response and he decided it could be beneficial to open up their large food book collection. He added: “Having books enables us to really learn about what to do with food and, importantly, to have the confidence to try these new ideas out.”

food library 1

Mayhew also did a course at a chef’s academy in Devon in preparation for running workshops out of their home for library members.

“Being able to grow food and knowing where it’s from – rather than going into a supermarket and picking up something from an imaginary farm – is more sustainable for both people and the planet,” Mayhew said. “A big part of this is about learning what a library really is. But we know ours will be active and busy. We have to go back to asking, ‘can you feed a street?’”

The couple are expecting more than 20 people to cram into their home for the grand opening on Saturday January 25, and they are planning a schedule of events to bring the local food community together in their personal library.


The Food Library will open “two or three Saturdays a month” to begin with, but Mayhew said they will look for feedback on their schedule in case it doesn’t allow some of the local community to get involved.

Anyone who wishes to attend this Saturday’s opening can get more information by contacting A year’s membership will cost £25, which will ensure access to meetings and workshops held at the library.