Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey and Pastor Lorraine Jones, director of the Dwayne Simpson Foundation, are two prominent local figures to have signed an appeal to GLL, Lambeth council’s leisure provider, to pull out of plans to turn two libraries into “healthy living centres”.
They were joined by the occupiers of one of the two libraries, the Carnegie in Herne Hill who, in a statement, said the silence of GLL, a social enterprise company, was “baffling”.
They said GLL (formerly Greenwich Leisure Limited) prided itself on being an ethical, community-oriented enterprise, but went on: “Yet it seemingly stands to benefit from a plan that deprives vulnerable people of a lifeline, while offering, instead, a gym facility that is not wanted and not needed.”
Laura Swaffield, chair of the Friends of Lambeth Libraries, said: “The council seems to lack all common sense and all shame. It is time to turn the spotlight on to GLL. GLL needs to explain the virtues of a deal that, on the surface, seems very advantageous to GLL and disastrous to Lambeth’s most vulnerable residents.”
In the war of words around Lambeth’s libraries, Cllr Jane Edbrooke, the council’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods and responsible for libraries, said she wanted “to set the record straight” and that the occupied Carnegie library attracted only 2 per cent of library visits in the borough.
She said the Carnegie would re-open in early 2017 as a healthy living centre “with a refurbished neighbourhood library, new computers, the same book stock and study space. It will also be open for longer hours”.
She went on: “There have been thorough discussion with residents and community groups about Lambeth libraries – both in public and at private meetings.
“We understand that people are passionate about this issue. But it’s a simple fact: there is less money to go round, so savings have to be made.”
She said people occupying the Carnegie library were “entitled to voice their concerns”. But she continued: “Who will protest for the children in care and the vulnerable pensioners if the cuts are made to their services instead?
“Lambeth council has to find £238million in savings between 2011 and 2018 which equate to half of its core funding.”
In this financial environment, Lambeth’s remaining libraries budget would be concentrated on its “town centre” libraries, which attract 80 per cent of visits. “Carnegie library only attracts 2 per cent of the borough’s library users,” she said.
Cllr Edbrooke went on: “Despite our financial challenge we are one of the few areas of the country that has found a way to maintain a library service in all our current locations.
“It is unfortunate that a small number of people have decided to be obstructive.
“We are proud of the fact that we are able to keep library services open in ten locations across Lambeth.
“Residents in every part of the borough will still have access to dedicated librarians, our extensive stock of books and resources, the Lambeth’s archives and space to work.”
The letter to GLL said: “Where communities have been consulted about this (at Durning and Tate South Lambeth) they rejected the idea of a gym being installed.
“Lambeth has not had the courtesy to consult people living around Carnegie and Minet (the other library, in Myatt’s Fields, to be run by GLL) libraries, but our community is united in its belief that installing a gym at the heart of our beloved library buildings is vandalism and dereliction of duty in the handling of public assets.
“We absolutely oppose handing over the building to a private operator and we reject the offer of unstaffed study and community spaces.
“People living around Minet library in Coldharbour, Vassall and Herne Hill wards suffer some of the most acute deprivation in Britain.
“People who use the libraries at present – including children to do homework – face multiple deprivation and live in some of the most overcrowded housing in the borough.
“The libraries are a crucial lifeline to opportunity and if we lose these libraries then Lambeth will be leaving our communities to rot.”
One of the Carnegie’s last achievements was to win cash to aid deprived people locally.
The letter to GLL was signed by:
Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall; Marjorie Landels, chair Minet Hub, chair Myatt’s Fields Park Project, chair Friends of Minet Library; Jeff Doorn, chair, Friends of Carnegie Library; Anthea Masey, Loughborough Junction Action Group; Nicholas Edwards, SE5 Forum Lambeth Representative; Louise Gardiner-Hill, Chair, Minet Conservation Association; Lucia Vinzon, director, Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organisation ; Maude Estwick, Chair, Milkwood Residents Association; Tracey Gregory, chair, LEAF (Loughborough, Evandale, Akerman, Fiveways) Tenants and Residents Association; Dawn Kalu, committee member LEAF Tenants and Residents Association; Pastor Lorraine Jones, director Dwayne Simpson Foundation ; Andrea Brown, It’s Your Local Market; Lucy Williams, Myatts Fields South TRA; Dirk Bischof, CEO One Planet Ventures; John Frankland, former chair of Thorlands Housing Management Society; June Armstrong, residents’ representative of The Happenings, Myatts Fields North estate; John Torjussen, Milkwood estate; Laura Mitchison, On The Record; Ceri Buckmaster, Hidden Conflicts, Open Grief, Angell Town; Ruth Samuel, mental health carers’ advice, support and development worker, Carers Hub; Lahnah Johnson, Healing Gardens; Marc Elmes, Tomric Schueller Elmes, Georgina Schueller, Maya Schueller Elmes, Jane Campbell, John Campbell, South Island Workshop; Bernadette Johnson, practice manager, Herne Hill Road Medical Practice; Lu Firth, volunteer coordinator, Cool Tan Arts; Elizabeth Ochagavia, member of Friends of Carnegie Library; Edward Ochagavia, Carnegie Chess Club.
Brixtonblog approached GLL for comment which had not be received at the time of publication.