Lambeth Culture 2020: do we feel consulted?

Will we have spaces to be creative in Lambeth in 2020?

I am not an experienced attendant of consultation meetings, I’m not going to lie. But I was shocked at the transparency of box-ticking at last night’s Lambeth Council’s  Culture 2020 consultation, where local residents were ‘consulted’ on Lambeth Council’s proposals as to how they should run our parks, libraries and leisure facilities with a reduced budget.

Over 100 local residents gathered at Myatt’s Field North Community Centre – all of them concerned about how the cuts are being managed, and many of them particularly worried about how they will affect the provision of services in Vassall Ward, where Minet Library and Myatt’s Field Park are under threat, and in the case of the former, in danger of  being sold off.

My day job is in arts marketing, and this crowd would equate to what we call ‘an engaged audience segment’ – we know they’re interested, now we need to listen to what about. However, the councillors and officers didn’t seem to see it that way.

Children working at Brixton library
Children working at Brixton library

I love being asked for my opinion and am usually keen to give it. But, presented with an uber neutral (yet very friendly) council officer and a blank flipchart, our opinions, including my own, felt like they were pointlessly floating out into the ether. In my discussion group certainly, our ideas as to how the council could change their proposal (avoiding selling off Minet Library) were lacking in strategic research and overwrought with political scepticism.

Would opening a coffee shop at the library make a significant amount of money to justify its presence? Would putting pay-as-you-go hot desks into the library help to make ends meet? Should a trust of local residents take over and run the Minet Library as a social enterprise? Could half of the plot be developed into flats, the sale of which could fund the library? I don’t know the answers to these questions but if it were my [paid] job to have researched how to best manage the funding cuts, I would have.

Carnival art at Sunshine Arts, Loughborough Junction.
Carnival art at Sunshine Arts, Loughborough Junction.

The meeting seemed to rely on people having done extensive research into funding options, or to blindly trust our council and their own research. I winced at the end of the meeting when, after residents asked how their ideas would be taken forward, associate director John Kerridge said that ‘nothing new had come up today’, that the council hadn’t already been considering and in fact working on. His remark was infuriating. And not just because he hadn’t actually heard all that had happened in the room.

When one resident commented that we didn’t have all the facts in front of us, a blunt response was fired back: that all information is available online. Who is going to wade through reams of documents to understand the council’s activity and motivation? In no profession other than politics would this be acceptable.

Here are a hundred residents, passionate about the cultural assets of their ward, being made to feel like silly school children who haven’t done enough homework. It is the council’s responsibility to spell it out to their residents what they are doing and why, not to pay lip service to consultations to fulfill a legal requirement.

This consultation would have been much more productive if the councillors had discussed well-researched ideas for how to bear the funding cuts to our parks, libraries and leisure facilities. To hold a faux idea gathering ceremony only to reveal before we go home that nothing new has been raised, and it is our job to read the council website, not their job to inform us, certainly left a bitter taste.

Sign the petition to show your support for Minet Library, and find out more about the council’s Cultural Service by 2020 proposals here.

Ruth can be found tweeting about Brixton, the arts and walking friends’ dogs @MinimalismBlog


  1. I was also at the meeting, and had the same experience. Local residents put forward some sensible suggestions (only selling part of the library site, or simply selling the house attached to the library; a café and other funding streams; turning the library into a trust to access different funding streams), but there was NO explanation at all of how/if these ideas had already been investigated for feasibility. The vague – and very unconvincing – assurances that they would be ‘looked at’ before the end of the consultation process sounded very hollow indeed. Thanks Lambeth!

  2. I was also at the “consultation” meeting and couldn’t agree with you more – your last paragraph puts it perfectly.

    We had a long discussion on our table (also facilitated by a very nice council person) about the idea of spinning all the libraries off into a trust which would allow them to access other funding sources. That sounded quite interesting, but as none of us are experts it was obviously a very preliminary discussion. It then was then utterly infuriating to be told at the end of the meeting that was already something the council was exploring. As you say, why not present some of those options to us for discussion?

  3. Yes, it is shocking how a so-called ‘consultation’ is run by a self-proclaimed “co-operative” council. On Cressingham Gardens we have had to now take the consultation into our own hands. The council consistently fails to do even a first level research and analysis in a professional manner, so residents have to step in and do their job for them (e.g. getting our own quantity surveyor in to look at refurbishment costs that were consequently halved compared to the council’s really questionable numbers). This particularly hurts when we end up having to pay twice – our time to do their job plus pay taxes to pay these council officers’ salaries.

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