Celebrities join 500 marchers to save Lambeth libraries

Celebrities join 500 marchers to save Lambeth libraries

Jay Rayner & Will Self – and 500 Lambeth residents – turned out in the rain on Saturday to defend their much-needed 10 libraries.

Other celebrity supporters include Richard Ayoade, Joanna Lumley and Mark Rylance.

Most in danger are the Minet and Carnegie libraries. The council plans to close both on April 1, and then spend millions converting them into fee-charging gyms.
Also due to close is Waterloo library.

The library buildings will be handed to leisure company GLL at a peppercorn rent, for up to 25 years. All were donated by philanthropists on the strict condition that the council run them as libraries.

“They are not the council’s slush pile, to be trashed, sold or given away as it pleases,” said Laura Swaffield, chair of Friends of Lambeth Libraries (FOLL). “They belong to us. Hence our slogan: DON’T STEAL OUR LIBRARIES.”

The Labour council promises to replace all three libraries, some time in the future, with “neighbourhood libraries”. Despite repeated requests, it declines to say what these will offer – except that they will be “much reduced” and have no staff at all.

This means children cannot visit them without an escort for safety. It also means no help for the many disadvantaged people who currently get advice, help with using the internet and a huge range of free activities for all ages.

Toddlers, schoolkids, older people and many others can’t use a gym even if they can afford the fees. The planned gyms are both in areas already well supplied with gyms – according to the council’s own reports.

The council has committed £4m (capital and revenue) to build and support the unwanted gyms. For far less, it could keep running all Lambeth’s 10 libraries.

Laura Swaffield says:”I’m also chair of The Library Campaign, the national charity that supports library supporters. I get reports from all over the UK.

“But Lambeth’s plans are unique. No other council in the whole UK aims to spend more on destroying libraries than it would on saving them. It’s the stupidest plan I have ever seen.”

The council has rejected an alternative plan put forward by its own head of libraries, which would save more money than the current plan while still keeping all 10 badly-needed libraries running.

The decision seems irrational. An application for judicial review is to be made immediately.

A legal obligation to consult residents has already forced the council to reprieve one library from death by gym. The consultation was limited to users of two libraries, Durning and Tate South Lambeth, as to which would become a gym. The overwhelming response from both groups was that they do not want a gym – they want a library.

FOLL says: “Lambeth has yet to disclose how much it spent on this consultation. But users of Carnegie, Minet and Waterloo have spent over a year telling it the same thing – for free, and in their hundreds. They have been ignored.”

So far over 10,000 people have signed petitions, hundreds have written to the council and hundreds have turned out at council meetings and local demonstrations.

FOLL says: “We will do all we can to make Lambeth council see sense. It is destroying an essential frontline service, making itself hugely unpopular – and paying through the nose to do so.”

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