Annual Review 2021

Every day we hear how much Explore means to the people who live in our city. Our libraries, archives and cafes are places where people of all ages know they belong, and where they can connect with each other or with the history of York, and discover stories and ideas. Explore challenges imaginations and brings artists into our spaces to ignite creativity for old and young.  Our spaces are free and open to everyone.

We run 15 libraries including York Explore – our flagship library and home of the City Archive – 5 Reading Cafes, a mobile library, and a home library service. We employ more than 80 people. We provide public libraries and archives under a contract with the City of York council. But Explore is a different kind of public service – a mutual society governed by a board of directors and owned by members of the community and the staff who work here. Collaboration and co-operation is at our heart.

Explore came into being in 2014 as a mutual industrial and provident society with charitable status owned by our staff and our community members. All members own one share in Explore. Anyone over the age of 16 can become a member. Following a competitive tendering process in 2018, Explore was awarded a new fifteen year contract to run libraries and archives for City of York council from April 2019 to March 2034.

We are firmly rooted in York with a board of directors who are all local people and understand the city’s needs. Our board takes overall responsibility for everything we do. Our staff, community members, library users and partner organisations also have the chance to get involved in various ways to help us develop and grow in response to the needs and wishes of local people.

We have worked with the Cabinet Office and the Department for Culture Media and Sport to share our learning and expertise in the mutualisation of services and contributed to a toolkit on alternative delivery models for public libraries.

We are registered with the Financial Conduct Authority and recognised as having charitable status by HMRC. We are governed by a set of rules which define what we do.

Here is a copy of our Balance Sheet for the financial year which ended 31 March 2020.

Our Values

Enterprising and Innovative

We continually seek opportunities to develop and improve


Our services and resources are impartial, open to all and delivered with respect

Community Focused

People are at the heart of our services and we put them first in everything we do


We are accountable for our decisions, services and commitments


We are reflective and promote learning and exploration in everything we do


We actively seek views from community and partners to develop high quality services and programmes together


Our decision making is ethical, with social and environmental concerns at its heart

About our Board

Our board of directors oversees all our work, monitors our performance and helps us to set our long term strategy and yearly plans and budgets. Under our current rules the board can have 9 members: 3 non-executive directors, 3 community directors (voted for by our community members), 1 director nominated by City of York council, the chief executive officer and a staff director (elected by Explore staff). All directors are volunteers and give their time for free. Each member of the board has a duty and responsibility to protect the interests of Explore and ensure the organisation is well run. Members of the board are not to represent their own interests or that of any other organisation they have a role in.

Explore Management Team

Fiona Williams

Chief Executive

Susan Brook Chief Finance Officer

Susan Brook

Chief Finance Officer

Sarah Garbacz, Chief Operating Officer

Sarah Garbacz

Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer