CARNEGIE LIBRARY HERNE HILL OCCUPATION ENTERS SIXTH DAY
“We are proud of the fact that we are able to keep library services open in ten locations across Lambeth.”
UPDATE: Another court hearing this Friday April 8th (when lock-in protesters are expected to attend, the injunction says!). Lambeth will be seeking court costs at some point. Press releases issued today by both the library occupiers and Lambeth council:
PRESS RELEASE: Carnegie Library Occupiers question the Lambeth/GLL gym connection
The 40 occupiers at Carnegie Library, Herne Hill, London – including children and teenagers – begin their sixth day living inside the library on Tuesday (April 5).
They are protesting Lambeth council’s determination to close one of the borough’s most popular libraries and spend millions on installing a fee-charging private gym. This is against overwhelming public opposition.
Equally baffling is the silence of Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL), the social enterprise secretly handed a contract by Lambeth to run two such gyms on former library premises. GLL would get attractive, high-quality buildings at a ‘peppercorn rent’ (unspecified), with up to £3m allocated for gym installation and a further £1m revenue to shore up their operation. The plan was developed, in secret, in summer 2015. It attracted ridicule and outrage when revealed last October.
This is part of a plan to close four out of Lambeth’s 10 libraries and replace them – some time next year – with ‘lounges’ that will be smaller (size unspecified), hold some stock (amount unspecified) but have no staff on site to help people.
The council’s own report to Cabinet (October 12, 2015) makes it clear that unstaffed libraries will seriously disadvantage a long list of current users, who will find it hard to access a proper library service elsewhere. The list includes women, small children, schoolchildren, older people, disabled people and those on low incomes. And, with no staff to safeguard them, children will not even be able to enter the ‘lounges’ unless they have an adult with them.
GLL gives limited information on its website about its operations, but prides itself on being an ethical, community-oriented enterprise. Yet it seemingly stands to benefit from a plan that deprives vulnerable people of a lifeline, while offering instead a gym facility that is not wanted and not needed.
Campaigners in Lambeth have many questions to ask the about the secret deal, struck by some Lambeth officers with GLL. So far their efforts have been concentrated on trying to convince Lambeth that it is wasting money, while making itself very unpopular.
Letters to GLL Managing Director Mark Sesnan have, so far, yielded little.
Laura Swaffield, chair of the Friends of Lambeth Libraries, says: “The council seems to lack all common sense and all shame. It is time to turn the spotlight on to GLL. GLL needs to explain the virtues of a deal that, on the surface, seems very advantageous to GLL – and disastrous to Lambeth’s most vulnerable residents.
“Meanwhile, the adults occupying the library are buoyed up by our supporters, who are more numerous than ever. Hundreds come to the barred entrance every day, to offer whatever help we need.
“They tell us how disgusted they are at Lambeth council’s arrogance and refusal to listen.
“And the kids are all right! The younger ones have a wonderful library and garden to play in. The teens have a quiet room to study – it is peak exam revision time, and they would have had nowhere else to go. We are sorry for the many other children who have been locked out by the council. We have seen parents and children in tears.
“We are inundated with food, blankets, mattresses and everything that we might need. We have never eaten so well! Donations of wine have shot up after Lambeth councillor Rezina Chowdhury tweeted a photo of us, critical of us for having dinner together inside the library.
“We’ve had the nearby church, St Saviour’s, leading a sing-song; a poetry reading; a local choir; visits by Lambeth authors Stella Duffy, Toby Litt and Alex Wheatle along with many other individual performers. We’ve also continued the free weekly chess club, by playing outside on the steps.
And poignantly, we’ve been visited by the members of Ruskin Readers – a club that gave free one-to-one help in the library to adults who have difficulty reading. This had been provided free for over 40 years. Lambeth’s Labour council just told them to find somewhere else – and pay for it.
The problem here is: Lambeth’s Labour council, along with its mysterious alliance with GLL
AND THE LATEST LAMBETH COUNCIL PRESS RELEASE under the heading culture, education and learning ‘Update Carnegie library’ posted yesterday (April 4th):
Carnegie Library is currently occupied by protesters who have made a number of claims about the future of the Lambeth Council building.
It is important to set the record straight. Carnegie Library will re-open in early 2017 as a Healthy Living Centre with a refurbished neighbourhood library, new computers, the same book stock and study space. It will also be open for longer hours.
Cllr Jane Edbrooke, Cabinet member for Neighbourhoods, said: “There have been thorough discussion with residents and community groups about Lambeth Libraries – both in public and at private meetings.
“We understand that people are passionate about this issue, but it’s a simple fact – there is less money to go round – so savings have to be made.
“These campaigners are entitled to voice their concerns, but who will protest for the children in care and the vulnerable pensioners if the cuts are made to their services instead?”
Lambeth council has to find £238 million in savings between 2011 and 2018 which equate to half of its core funding.
In this financial environment Lambeth Library’s remaining budget will be concentrated on the borough’s town centre libraries, which attract 80 per cent of visits. Carnegie Library only attracts two per cent of the borough’s library users.
The council will take appropriate action to ensure the safety of those who have occupied the building, and to also ensure the listed building is not damaged.
Cllr Edbrooke said: “Despite our financial challenge we are one of the few areas of the country that has found a way to maintain a library service in all our current locations.
“It is unfortunate that a small number of people have decided to be obstructive, especially as Lambeth Council has worked incredibly hard to minimise the impact of the cuts on Lambeth libraries.
“We are proud of the fact that we are able to keep library services open in ten locations across Lambeth.
“Residents in every part of the borough will still have access to dedicated librarians, our extensive stock of books and resources, the Lambeth’s archives and space to work.”
FURTHER READING: Guardian Online story Lambeth library plans condemned as ‘absolute shambles’ by Peter Walker which quotes Cllr Edbrooke.