Local artists and cultural leaders respond to Lambeth’s culture cuts

Lambeth’s Culture 2020 proposals see a diminishing pot of money funding a diminishing collection of public cultural resources. If fulfilled the proposals would see two of our libraries closed, with a further three no longer being run by the council. The money spent on our parks would also dramatically downsize by almost 50%, from £4.5 million spent in 2014/2015 to just £2.3 million proposed for 2017/18.

We asked local artists, writers and leaders in the cultural life of our borough what they thought about the proposals. You can respond to Lambeth’s consultation on their website.

 

Stella Duffy, author

Stella Duffy, author and co-director of Fun Palaces

Dear Lambeth, please, support the libraries
Don’t sell the libraries, because 20 minutes to the closest library is a hard walk if you’re disabled or carrying children, in the rain, in the cold, in the dark.
Don’t sell the libraries because small local libraries are just as valuable as big central ones.
Don’t sell the libraries because they are community hubs and can be better community hubs.
Don’t sell the Minet because Loughborough Junction is already badly provisioned and badly served.
Don’t sell Waterloo library because Waterloo will always be a place of homeless and needy, and a library can – and should – make a difference to desperate lives.
Don’t downsize the Carnegie because the more you downsize it, the sooner it will become yet another shiny block of flats.
Libraries can be so much – community centres, places of engagement for the elderly and house-bound, wellbeing centres, linked to GP surgeries AND to outdoor activities, core centres for community life.
In a time of uncertainty, let’s protect and enhance what we have. Let’s not look back in fifty years and say ‘what a shame’.
Treasure our libraries and enable the people to engage with them.
Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.

Adjani Okpu-Ekbe paints at the Knight Webb Gallery. Photograph by Ruth Waters

Adjani Okpu-Egbe, artist 

We need our youths to become confident and successful and success isn’t a dream, it’s an attitude which if well cultivated over time would mature to yield even riper and better tasting fruits in any altitude. For that to happen, we can not over emphasise the importance of education, whether it is at home, in schools or in communities, like Brixton, where libraries and recreational facilities play an indispensable role. 

My daughter is almost 5 now and I have taken her to the library every weekend since she was one and she absolutely loves it. Closing these facilities down is an attack on the future, an attack on the community and an attack on civilisation.

Education is the most important investment in life, seconded only by the virtue of kindness, and the cuts in educational and recreational facilities are neither an investment nor a gesture of kindness. 

Adam Mars Jones, writer and teacher

This seems to be a plan thought up by people who don’t actually know what a library is.  It dresses up asset-stripping as custodianship and disenfranchises Lambeth people from culture while using the slogans of a bogus empowerment.  It’s time to treat properly staffed libraries as the front-line services they are.

Adam Mars Jones reading at the Brixton BookJam. Photograph by Stuart Taylor

Shelley Silas, writer, Brockwell Lido Fun Palace Maker & Deputy Chair of BLU (Brockwell Lido Users Group)

Shelley Silas is writer-in-residence at Brockwell Lido

Closing libraries and expecting locals to do a council’s work for free, is definitely not on. I would rather see current libraries given more financial support rather than wasting millions on new infrastructures.

Sports/exercise for everyone must be a priority, and this is an area I would like to see further supported financially. While free gyms in parks are to be fully supported, I would also like to see those who are less well off, be able to take part in sports activities which they could not normally afford to do and encouraged to do so.  A healthy body = a healthy mind = a healthy life.  People will be more proactive in their daily lives, get fit and get happier, which is no bad thing.

We live in a community of haves and have nots and where many people are depressed and lack lustre. Sport, whether it is swimming, walking, taking classes, gym workouts or anything else, is one area where everyone is equal.  Transfer this to one’s daily life and who knows, great change might happen.

Kelly Foster, historian and London Blue Badge Guide, member of Support Lambeth Archives

Kelly Foster. Photograph by Antonio Sansica 

I was disappointed that Culture 2020 missed the opportunity to invest in the Lambeth Archives, the borough archives, to create a modern archive service that inspires the public and contributes our national story – with capacity for the collection to expand, that caters to schools and families, makes the collections better accessible online and meets the challenges of preserving digital archives.

Culture 2020 overlooks the significant amount of time needed for the major logistical challenge of moving an archive collection. If Lambeth Archives has to relocate they should go to a better facility than they have currently at Minet Library not be shoehorned into the Brixton Tate Library which is already full to capacity with users and would have to be to retrofitted at an astronomical expense to house their collection of historic documents, photographs, books and art works. 

Lambeth Archives plays a significant role in the network of heritage organisations that have attracted millions of pounds of investment into Lambeth – from national institutions like the Black Cultural Archives and the Southbank Centre, to the Garden Museum, Brixton Windmill and our many community organisations and heritage societies – their independence is vital to their success. 

In addition to holding the records of the Council the borough archive is a repository for the collective memory of generations who have lived and worked in Lambeth. All of life in Lambeth and its many communities over hundreds of years are represented.

I’m working with Support Lambeth Archives, a newly-organised group of users and depositors to Lambeth Archives to challenge the assumptions in Culture 2020 and champion our borough archives and its collections. 

Lambeth is rapidly changing and it’s vital that we invest in preserving our stories for future generations.

Michael Groce, performance poet, community activist and historian

Michael Groce, poet and community activist

There is a lot in the ‘Cultural services by 2020’ booklet that is both encouraging and discouraging. However, whatever I might think or feel, without being part of the consultation, my voice will not be heard.

This is a chance to let Lambeth know what you think and influence proposals concerning the future provision of cultural services in Lambeth before decisions are taken.

Lambeth are proposing significant changes to the way cultural services in Lambeth are provided and this may include the council no longer providing a service.

I am an advocate that the council should do less, stand back, and let others take the lead, at The GreenMan Skills Zone, for example, we are already stepping up and taking up the challenge by opening up the centre to the community, we are providing our excellent facilities so that they can engage in affordable arts and cultural activities and we intend doing so, for the benefit of the community, for a the foreseeable future.

Hence why this consultation is important.

Kim Winter, member of Friends of Windmill Gardens (FoWG)

Kim Winter

Lambeth Council has announced it will be halving the total parks budget from £4.5 million in 2014/15 to £2.3 million in 2017/18. For Windmill Gardens, this would mean poorer maintenance of grass, flowerbeds and trees, fewer repairs to facilities, more litter, and lower standards of health and safety.

The council says that free access to open spaces is invaluable to residents’ health and wellbeing, and it intends to save money by passing over more management of parks to Friends and community groups. FoWG has a good track record of working with Lambeth Council to improve Windmill Gardens and get Brixton Windmill restored, but we worry that these changes are being pushed through too far and too fast.

In particular, Windmill Gardens contains the grade II* listed Brixton Windmill, and much of the Friends’ time is spent organising free guided tours and other activities, including getting the mill to grind flour again in the run up to its 200th anniversary in 2016.

Our fear is that these proposals will result in partnership working being discredited and opportunities being lost here and across the borough. We urge people to lobby their councillors to stop the cuts or find more imaginative solutions.

Jeremy Sachs, musician and youth worker 

Jeremy Sachs playing live in the Green Rock River Band

Lambeth’s Culture 2020 proposal is selling two libraries, cutting funds to three. Why? Because they need to cut spending and raise money. Money raised will go to the Library Challenge Fund. This money will be available for charities to provide community services. The council suggested charities could provide ‘peer to peer support networks’ or ‘volunteer programmes’.

Here’s my problem. They are just suggestions; the council hasn’t got a plan for this money. Without a plan how do we expect the council to provide the community with the vital services these libraries provide?

Go into a library and you’ll see free support about health, education, access to internet, family support. As well as a place for vulnerable people in our borough to sit, read and be safe. Lambeth are about to take away two of these places and turn three into non-funded volunteer-run enterprises. My question is this:

Are we convinced the council has a plan to provide the essential services it is denying us by closing and cutting these libraries, and are they prepared for the long term economic impact in providing these services elsewhere?

Personally I’m not convinced they are, and it scares me.

Lesley Hilling, artist and proud member of Brixton Housing Co-op

Lesley Hilling in workshop

I don’t support any of the cuts. Why should some libraries be sold off to fund the others? This is only a short term solution. When the community library fund runs out they will sell off more libraries and once they are gone we’ll never get them back. The crisis resulted from banks having to be bailed out by the government with billions of pounds of taxpayers money, and we are now told that we have to accept massive cuts to our services to pay for it. Today the banks are flourishing and the city is awash with money.

We need a council who will say NO to austerity. And it has been done. In 1921 Labour councillors in Poplar spent six weeks in prison defending their decision to withhold funds from the government until changes were made to the way council taxes were distributed. This brave stand by a few people changed thousands of peoples lives.

Lambeth councillors, especially those who still call themselves Labour should look to their history books before they make the Tories’ cuts. They have to ask themselves what is their role: to show political leadership or to just balance the books?

How can we support a council that is prepared to sell out the residents of the Cressingham Estate, close our libraries and who allow local businesses to be driven out in favour of upmarket shops?

Rami Radi, musician and creative director of Laid Bare Live

So sad to see the potential closure of two of our local libraries, plus the further cuts to others. Growing up around here, I was often at Minet and having access to our local libraries is almost a basic human right! The spending cuts imposed over the next three years are too much, too unrealistic and very typical of a government that traditionally puts little value on Cultural Services. 
Rami Radi

Marjorie Landels, friend of Minet Library and Chair of the Myatt’s fields Park, part of the Minet Hub

The Minet Library reaches communities that few other services possess. Libraries support information as well as language literacy and address the digital divide. We believe the effective access to these services is of paramount importance, our library does more than simply loan books, it underpins our community.
It is not just a place for self-improvement, but the supplier of an infrastructure for life and learning, from babies to old age, offering support, help, education, and encouraging a love of reading. Closing the Minet Library to everyone living in Vassall and Coldharbour wards will further disadvantage many who already face disadvantage. 
 
We cannot lose the archive, it was be-quested to the people of lambeth and the library was built to house it, if the Minet Library closes where will the archive go?
 
We the friends of Minet Library have a solution and are working on a business plan to keep both the library and the archive in the Vassall ward, and will present to councillor Edbrooke before the deadline on Friday.

Mark Currie, Director of Chocolate Films

I was encouraged to read some exciting and timely ideas in this document. What stands out for me is the fact that the council has included giving residents “the chance to learn more about the art of cinema and film production” in its six priorities. Since we founded Chocolate Films as a social enterprise back in 2001, we have been campaigning to make practical and creative media skills a priority for children and young people, so it’s heartening to see that it’s being given the recognition that we believe it deserves.

We work with over 2,000 children, young people and vulnerable adults each year including many Lambeth schools and community groups, so it’s music to my ears to read the following line: “working with private sector and social enterprise partners our proposal… includes local residents and schools being more engaged in filming along with the employment and training opportunities film production, location and programming provide.”

Beyond that, I understand that Lambeth is facing very difficult cuts, but I can’t agree with closing libraries or the council ceasing to provide cultural services. Once these things go, they’re very difficult to get back.

A shot from Chocolate Film’s 1000 Londoners, a major project led by Mark Currie
 

 

 

 

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