Local notables Jay Rayner and Will Self joined 500 Lambeth residents in the rain on Saturday to defend Lambeth’s libraries.
Campaigners, boosted by the turnout, are now planning their next move – an application for a judicial review of the council’s decision – and will consult lawyers early in the week.
Lambeth council was forced to suspend its plans to demolish the Cressingham Gardens estate after a judicial review ruled that its consultation before the decision was unlawful.
Other celebrity supporters of the campaign include Richard Ayoade, Joanna Lumley and Mark Rylance.
Will Self told the protesters that local libraries are more important than ever as a way to give internet access to all, whatever their income.
They are not, he said, a gift to “well-toned banker wankers” – linking the issue to the gentrification of Lambeth.
The library buildings to be leased to leisure company GLL for up to 25 years were donated to local communities by philanthropists on the 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 has promised 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 trained library staff.
This meant children would not be able to visit them without an escort for safety.
It also meant there would be 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.
Swaffield said the council had committed £4m of capital and revenue spending to build and support the unwanted gyms. “For far less, it could keep running all Lambeth’s 10 libraries.”
An application for judicial review is to be made immediately by the library campaigners
Swaffield said the legal obligation to consult residents had already forced the council to reprieve one library from “death by gym”. But the consultation had been 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 said: “Lambeth has yet to disclose how much it spent on this consultation. But users of Carnegie, Minet and Waterloo libraries have spent over a year telling it the same thing – for free, and in their hundreds. They have been ignored.”
More than 10,000 people have so far signed petitions; hundreds have written to the council; and hundreds have turned out at council meetings and local demonstrations.
“We will do all we can to make Lambeth council see sense,” said FOLL. “It is destroying an essential frontline service, making itself hugely unpopular – and paying through the nose to do so.”