Saturday, October 23, 2010

Second meeting on Crofton Park Library - community again says 'keep it open'!

Left: Ladywell ward by-election candidate Ute Michel outside Crofton Park library.

On Tuesday I went along to the second public consultation meeting about the Council's proposals to close Crofton Park Library (along with Blackheath, New Cross, Sydenham and Grove Park Libraries). Once again it was officer-led, with officers at pains to stress that no decision had been taken and that they would report back to the Mayor who would ultimately make the decision. Two of the councillors for Crofton Park were there, as was Chris Best, the cabinet member for community services, which includes the library service, and she spoke briefly at the end of the meeting.

Once again, the vast majority of those at the meeting were firmly opposed to closing the library, and spoke of the important role it plays in the local community. Gwen, the now retired former librarian at Crofton Park spoke eloquently and with passion about how many parents and children use the library, which was backed up by a local head teacher concerned about the impact it would have on her pupils. And there were a notable number of older library users' there, including a blind woman whose grandson borrows books from the library to read to her. The very angry bloke who shouted so loudly at the last meeting that the chairs vibrated was there again, still just as angry, and intimidating!)

One interesting snippet of information was that while the majority of Crofton Park Library Users are, as to be expected, from within Crofton Park ward, 16% of users live in Ladywell ward and 11% in Telegraph Hill ward, so closing the library would have an impact on a much wider area than just the one council ward.

Perhaps the most interesting, 'meaty' part of the meeting, however, was when officers invited representatives from 'Make Believe Arts' (a local social enterprise) and the Ackroyd Community Centre to come up and speak. Both were at pains to stress that they didn't want the library to close and as local residents would far prefer it if it stayed open, but then went on to talk about possible ways of keeping the building in community use in the event the library does close.

'Make Believe Arts' outlined what use they would like to make of the building if it does close as a library. This included bringing the upstairs back into use as office and community space, in addition to the downstairs. The building would be more of a (social entreprise run) community centre, a hub for various classes, rather than a library, although they would work with Lewisham Library Services to see if they could maintain some aspects of the library service (eg some books still there, albeit a greatly-reduced number, or some kind of order and collection service of books from elsewhere). They talked about the work they have been involved in at the Leegate Centre, where they have brought an empty shop unit back into use as a community centre.

The Ackroyd Community Centre didn't have a firm proposal as such, but had been approached by council officers and said that they were willing to work with the local community to see how the building could be kept in community use, with some element of library provision incorporated within that, if it closed.

People listened politely to the presentations, then got straight to the point with the questions and comments - where did Make Believe Arts' funding come from, who would own the building, what would prevent an organisation changing the use in the future, how much of the current library services would be retained, etc. The thrust of what people seemed to be saying was yes, we'd love to see the upstairs of Crofton Park Library brought back into use, and might not be averse to a social enterprise or similar getting involved in making greater use of the building and bringing in more revenue, but we want this in addition to the much-loved library downstairs we already have, not instead of, with a tokenistic shelf or two of books thrown in alongside another use. You can find a view more comments on this from people who attended the meeting on the 'Save Crofton Park Library' Facebook group.

A lot of those present were concerned that if they said anything positive about the proposal put forward by Make Believe Arts that this would be interpreted in the report to the Mayor as acquiescing to the closure of the library. Officers assured us this would not be the case. Others felt it risked undermining the campaign to save the libraries to put forward alternative 'what to do if it closes' proposals at this stage - to an extent I agree with them, but I do think that Make Believe Arts were brave in coming and speaking to the meeting, and that they are genuine in their passion to keep the building in community use.

In the meantime, however, the campaign to keep our libraries open goes on, and it is one that the local community is determined to win. It was great to see at the meeting that campaigners from all 5 library campaigners are united and working together, rather than taking any kind of nimbyist, just save my local library approach.

Next weekend (Saturday 30th October) there is a march 'with a carnival flavour' to the town hall to protest against library closures. It starts outside Crofton Park Library at 12pm, to arrive at the Town hall by 1.30 for a rally. More details on the 'Save Crofton Park Library' Facebook group.

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