We hugely value library services – as a space to borrow books, to study, to take part in activities, to create the space for communities to come together and to provide information.
Many residents will be aware that we have proposed some changes to how Lambeth continue to provide this service. The proposals for change are entirely born of the financial situation imposed on us by central government which have seen a 56% cut in our funding since 2010. The next round of cuts – around £60m over the two years 201718 and 201819 – is already upon us and we have only just begun to think about where we can find additional savings from across the council’s budget. The Government’s budget last week signaled yet further cuts in the future.
Locally, residents in Thurlow Park mainly use two libraries – in West Norwood our town centre library is being refurbished in partnership with Picturehouse to create a brand new library and a new cinema.
In Herne Hill our local library is Carnegie. We are aware that some residents are concerned about Carnegie Library’s future. The council have been working for the past 3-4 years on plans to transfer the Carnegie building to community ownership. The plan is to create community activity, generate income, unlock new investment and thereby to ensure we can keep a library open which has an income base from which to provide a good quality offer to local residents.
A very similar thing was done with Brockwell Lido (in which the community regenerated a council asset) some years ago to the benefit of the whole community. The key difference being that the library service will of course remain free.
The community transfer plan stays on track. The Carnegie Community Trust have been working very hard on future investment plans for the building. In the mean time we need to press on with plans that ensure there is still a library there after the start of April when the budgets are due to drop out.
After a period in which the building will be closed to reconfigure the space (which we hope will be as short as possible) it will re-open as a neighbourhood library with the same book stock, with community and study space, staffing in the building and librarians running events on a regular basis alongside other uses including a healthy living centre run by GLL, Lambeth’s social enterprise leisure partner. Local community and other groups will be a key part of the mix. The hours of opening should be longer than the current 31 hours per week.
Some local campaigns have sought to depict plans as a small shelf of books in a corner of a gym – this could not be further from the truth. The difficult financial circumstances which have been imposed on local government have forced us to make some difficult compromises, but underpinned by our values we want to protect the beautiful Carnegie building, and the space and services it provides to many.
The council did receive alternative plans to make the savings via a staff mutual, which was independently assessed but did not stack up financially. Without a partnership and some compromise, we risk losing the library altogether, and we are pleased that Lambeth Labour councillors have been able to develop a plan which keeps this important asset and service in the community now and in the long term.
We have spoken to many residents around Thurlow Park about the plans over the past 6-9 months, most understand very well the difficult predicament government cuts have placed us in. They are generally supportive of plans to ensure that the library service at the Carnegie is as good as it possibly can be under circumstances which they know we have campaigned very hard to try to avoid.