South London celebs including authors Stella Duffy, Toby Litt and Barbara Ellis along with broadcaster Jeremy Hardy joined an April Fools’ Day protest at the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill yesterday.
But the loudest applause from a rally that organisers put at 250 strong was for Lambeth council’s Coldharbour ward councillor Rachel Heywood.
She is the only Labour councillor of nearly 60 on the council to have opposed the conversion of the library to a “community centre” with a gym in a newly dug basement and a library service above run by the council’s leisure provider GLL.
She was suspended from the local party for her opposition.
She told the protesters: “The council is ridiculing democracy. It pays no regard whatsoever to its electorate. The other 58 Labour councillors are whipped so hard they daren’t speak out. I would be ashamed to be part of it. This anti-closure campaign embodies the values that should characterise Labour.”
Michaela Loebner, a member of Defend the 10 – which campaigns to keep the borough’s current 10 libraries open and unchanged – said: “They hoped we would go away, but we’re still here. We’re a thorn in the council’s side and we won’t stop. We are the council’s conscience. They haven’t got one. The fight goes on.”
Jeff Doorn of Friends of Carnegie Library said: “The council is the April Fool. We’ve kept the spirit of the library alive all year and we’re here to stay.”
Stella Duffy – recently awarded an OBE for her services to the arts, including the Fun Palaces campaign which makes use of libraries – said: “Libraries need librarians. Lambeth’s failure to listen is heart-breaking. This library served some of the most deprived areas in the borough. There’s no reason for yet another gym round here.”
Barbara Ellis said: “When my family moved here, my parents were just about surviving. We needed this library. This beautiful, useful building has done so much for local people and for migrants. They have nowhere else to go.”
Toby Litt said: “The Carnegie occupation was the high point of last year in Lambeth. The council’s destruction of the library service is an assault on the community. The whole point of libraries is they open doors for society to do something that shows love for its people – like the NHS.”
Roger Lewis of Disabled People Against the Cuts said: “Lambeth says it has no choice. It is playing libraries against disabled people and adult social care. Well, libraries are adult social care.
“Disabled people will need them more than ever when universal credit forces everyone to use the internet. Where we see libraries, the council sees development opportunities.”
Laura Swaffield of Defend the 10 said: “It would have saved us a lot of trouble if the council had just said in the first place: ‘We haven’t a clue what we’re doing, but we don’t care because we’ve been trying to close this library and sell it off for 20 years.’ The council ignored chance after chance to divert funding to the libraries. It has starved them for decades.”
Jeremy Hardy said: “It’s not just that the council doesn’t understand what libraries do. This is ideologically driven. The Progress faction [of the Labour party] is driving Lambeth Labour to the right. It closed primary schools because they were failing – failing to be luxury flats. It’s the insane ideology of the private sector.”
Lambeth council: What is happening to Lambeth’s libraries