Strong defence made for Tate South Lambeth Library

In the following letter (2 December) to Lambeth Council’s Cabinet member responsible for libraries, Christina Burnett of the Vauxhall CIC  makes a powerful case for the Library to be the district centre library and not a gym with a few books.

‘Dear Cllr Edbrooke,

I am writing to protest in the strongest terms at the way residents are being deprived of genuine consultation about whether Tate South Lambeth or Durning Library should be the only full-service library in the North of the borough for the next few years.

Cabinet and Full Council voted on the Culture 2020 Report, which specifically states that EITHER Tate South Lambeth or Durning will be this full-service (‘town centre’) library.  However, the consultation form does not offer this option.

The wording is extremely misleading and allows only one result – the one you seem determined to achieve – which is to turn TSL into a gym with an unstaffed ‘community lounge’.  This is not a proper consultation.

In addition, just 450 consultation forms have been delivered to Tate South Lambeth.  These forms were all used within 4 days of the start of the consultation and no more have been supplied, so the consultation period is invalid.

In the week that Lambeth’s Cressingham Gardens consultation was judged unlawful for removing promised options it is astonishing that you and commissioners are again exposing LBL to legal challenges and associated costs and wasting scarce resources which could be spent on preserving vital front-line services.

The proposal to destroy TSL, the only library in Lambeth which consistently gains national recognition/awards for innovative digital and assistive work with protected groups, is irrational for the following reasons: usage, location, digital provision, statutory support for people with disabilities, financial investment,  ‘healthier for longer’ outcomes.

USAGE: 

Whatever the results of the consultations, residents vote with their feet and the figures for Tate South Lambeth and Durning speak for themselves.

  • Most recent figures (October 2015) show that 17,666 people visit TSL per month, compared to only 4,527 for Durning. 
  • Annual figures (2014/15) show a 69% increase in footfall at TSL, and a 29% decrease in footfall at Durning. 

You claim that Culture 2020 proposals will protect our busiest libraries as staffed full service libraries.

This is untrue:

Tate South Lambeth has the highest number of visits after Clapham, Brixton and Streatham.  TSL footfalll shows it is already de facto a  ‘town centre’ library but you and commissioners seem determined to ignore this evidence.

LOCATION

TSL benefits from Vauxhall’s excellent bus, tube and overground transport links, with a further tube station under construction.  It is situated right in the middle of two Lambeth estates, with several more social housing estates nearby. There are three primary schools within a few hundred yards of TSL which regularly use the library and a fourth is being built one street away. Two large academies also use the library. None of the children from these schools will be able to use an unstaffed ‘community lounge’.

Durning library is not centrally located and has fewer transport links. This is one reason why so few people choose to use Durning Library compared to Tate South Lambeth.

DIGITAL PROVISION/ EXCLUSION 

Tate South Lambeth computer usage is regularly first or second highest in the whole borough, often ahead of the ‘town centre’ libraries.

Tate South Lambeth is home to THE DIGITAL BAZAAR®, the digital skill sharing project which was runner up for the prestigious Libraries Change Lives Awards (the library ‘Oscars’) in 2012.

According to Culture Minister Ed Vaizey MP “The Digital Bazaar® library scheme shows exactly what can be achieved when people come together locally.  It also highlights how libraries can and should become digital knowledge centres at the heart of every community, giving us the tools to realize our potential in the 21st Century.”  We tried for a full year (2013)  to run the DIGITAL BAZAAR® at Durning Library, but were not able to gain enough community support at Durning to continue.

The DIGITAL BAZAAR® is now in its 5th year at TSL.  We’ve had over 50 volunteer trainers and hundreds of local people have improved digital knowledge, creating a unique sustainable digital support network for all sections of the community – at no cost to Lambeth.  (Compare this with the Digibuddies scheme which costs Lambeth £70,000 pa and recruited just 48 volunteers, many of whom were not retained). Under the GLL gym proposals the Digital Bazaar® will no longer be able to run at Tate South Lambeth, although you continue to claim that it will.   Please stop making these untrue claims.

What council and residents have also never been told is that the broadband computers in Lambeth Libraries are continually breaking down, need rebooting etc, requiring immediate support from on-site library staff to keep the computers working.  Lambeth’s IT support is vastly over-stretched and even when library staff request urgent attendance it can take weeks for IT to come and fix a problem.  In the proposed gym+ unstaffed ‘community lounge’ of your GLL model, most of the computers will not be working, most of the time.

As many compulsory services like Universal Credit, jobsearch and many LBL services are online-only, there is huge pressure on every public library computer. If even one computer is not working for a day, up to 10 hours of bookings are lost.  This causes great frustration to users – most of whom have no alternative digital access  – and there are already increasing numbers of recorded ‘incidents’ in fully-staffed libraries over this issue.  This means unstaffed community lounges will not be safe places for most people. These issues are not addressed anywhere in the Culture 2020 or equalities reports. This completely undermines the central concept of  ‘safe, interesting spaces’.

Also not addressed is the provision of digital support for the many residents unable to use computers without help. The large libraries like Brixton, Clapham and Streatham are already at capacity and there will be nowhere for those displaced from the proposed unstaffed gym libraries to go for the support they need.  This will massively increase digital exclusion and inequality for disadvantaged residents and protected groups in Lambeth.

STATUTORY SUPPORT FOR DISABLED PEOPLE 

Tate South Lambeth is the only library in the UK to be nominated by disabled people for an Accessible Britain Challenge Award.  TSL is the lead library for visual impairment/dyslexia in Lambeth, it holds the Lambeth collection of braille children’s books and the only braille machine in Lambeth Libraries (used often by a blind resident who is learning English).

The LIBRARIES FOR EVERYONE/DTVIP model developed at TSL by Vauxhall CIC/Lambeth Libraries with input from Social Services and disabled people has brought Lambeth national recognition as the most accessible library service in England.  We work closely with Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust to link up NHS support for visual impairment with statutory social service support to provide some of our most isolated and disadvantaged residents with the equipment and skills they need at no extra cost, through the statutory public library service.  A large majority of people we support are from BME communities, which are disproportionately affected by visual impairment. We also support people with dyslexia, which is estimated to affect 10% of the population, with devastating impact on education and employment prospects.

In the Department for Culture Media and Sport Libraries Report 2014 this work was chosen as one of only 3 best-practice case studies in England and described as “unique, pioneering and innovative within public libraries”. 

We have been visited by Government Ministers, the Cabinet Office, the Office for People with Disabilities and many other local authorities wishing to learn from our pioneering work, which is promoted by the Local Government Association – but you, our own local councillor in Oval ward – have brushed aside our invitations to visit and never consulted us about the conditions this work requires.  In spite of this you and other LBL councillors regularly claim that the LIBRARIES FOR EVERYONE/DTVIP work will be able to continue after TSL is turned into a gym. This is untrue.  This work could NOT continue if Tate South Lambeth Libary becomes a gym with an unstaffed ‘community lounge’.  Please confirm that you and officers will stop misleading  councillors and residents on this point.  At least have the courtesy to come and meet some of our visually impaired users and listen to their experiences of this library-based service transforming lives. 

Tate South Lambeth Library is fully accessible to all members of the community including those with impaired mobility, low vision and dyslexia, wheelchair users etc.  Tate South Lambeth library staff have specialist knowledge and training in supporting people with visual impairment. Durning building is only accessible through an inconvenient rear entrance.  Durning staff do not have the specialist knowledge in supporting visually impaired people.

Why are you deliberately targeting a unique local/national resource for disabled people? Why are you determined to destroy the busiest and most successful library in North Lambeth?

Rumour has it that this is driven by GLL, which sees more profit in centrally-located TSL rather than outlying Durning.  It was only after your secret negotiations with GLL that Durning suddenly became the ‘best’ site for a full-service library. The vast majority of respondents to the first consultation were either in favour of Tate South Lambeth, or stated no preference.  Only a small proportion chose Durning – and the context of that consultation was completely different to the current proposals so it is disingenuous to use the results as a reason for the change. Indeed, you have several times admitted that the change is not because of resident preference, but because TSL is considered more suitable for the GLL ‘healthy living centres’.

‘PEOPLE ARE HEALTHIER FOR LONGER’ 

Tate South Lambeth is surrounded by modern purpose built gyms and the council’s own report acknowledges an over-supply of gym facilities in the North of the Borough. The last thing needed in this area is another gym, yet Culture 2020 proposes to turn most of the free library’s floor space into a fee-paying  GLL gym – and remove all the space and staff  currently contributing to many of the cultural, social inclusion, educational and health/well-being aims of Culture 2020.  This is highly irrational.

Tate South Lambeth library is currently the centre of an innovative and very successful well-being/fitness/ social inclusion network for older people, many of whom have long-term health conditions, disabilities or who are at severe risk of social isolation. 

A range of fitness and health support and information, like NHS health checks and the month long FIT IN FEBRUARY season run in early 2015 are provided at the library and linked with fitness classes and other activities in the Castle House Sheltered Scheme behind TSL and the Wheatsheaf Community Hall nearby.

Through digital support in the library and a linked project at Castle House, older residents are becoming digitally skilled.  In 2015 they have won or been finalists for 3 major awards – the EROSH Award for Innovation and Good Practice, the TPAS  Award for Excellence in Digital Engagement and most recently runners up for the Lambeth Community Pride Innovation of the Year Award.  Prize money from these awards is reinvested by the older people themselves into digital training and events, increasing capacity, confidence and social inclusion.

Vauxhall CIC has worked with library staff and older people to develop this linked and growing network of activities, which also includes a major cultural offering – the MOVIE MATINEES annual winter season of 10 afternoon film screenings of classic films, now in its third year.  VCIC initially set up the screenings with library staff but the screenings are now programmed and run by the older people themselves.  They are now able to raise grants for the programme, including buying a film licence for the library so that other local groups like the Friends can also run library screenings.  As a result of this work at the library Vauxhall CIC is a member of the BFI (British Film Institute) Film Hub Network.

We also helped older people to set up and run at the library a popular digital Family History Group.

Older people are also very active in supporting education for local children via Homework clubs in the library, and there is an intergenerational knitting group where older people pass on their skills to children and young parents, also at the library.  And of course there is a regular Over 55s group run by library staff.

Together, all these activities and groups provide a linked network which supports long-term physical and mental health, well-being and social engagement available to all older people in this part of Vauxhall.

ALL these activities will  cease if Tate South Lambeth is handed over to GLL and most of the building turned into a gym, with community groups expected to pay to hire space for their activities.

FINANCIAL

  • The Durning building requires large expenditure- £800,000 listed in the Culture 2020 report – Tate South Lambeth does not.
  • To divert hundreds of thousands of pounds of scarce money into converting TSL into an unwanted gym, making it INaccessible for people with disabilities (and which will be certain to fail within a few years) is a gross waste of council funds and does not represent value for money. The library will also be shut for many months for building work.
  • The innovative work at Tate South Lambeth has drawn in thousands of pounds of prize money/ donations/ grants to support the work of the statutory library service. If TSL is turned into a gym this income stream will stop.

As of last week Local Authorities are permitted to raise 2% extra precept for adult social care.  LBL must urgently investigate this option, before cutting frontline library services on the previously claimed basis that all the money needs to go into adults/ childrens services.  In fact the work done at TSL contributes, at negligible cost, towards the statutory social service provision for adults with visual impairment as well as those with long-term health conditions or at risk of social isolation.  If the Chancellor can withdraw the ill-thought through tax credit proposals which would have hurt huge numbers of vulnerable people, then LBL can do the same.

Circumstances have  also changed for arts funding:

Lambeth is halving the statutory library service while offering grants totalling £600,000 to non-statutory organisations like The Old Vic and the Garden Museum, which have a record of raising huge sums from outside sources – at a time when Arts Council funding is being retained in full under the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.  Lambeth council should urgently reconsider retaining this £600,000 for the statutory library service.

Finally, I would like to put on record that I strongly oppose the creation of the undemocratic ‘Lambeth Cultural Trust’ and the handing over to GLL – with no consultation, no tender, no business plan, no feasibility study – valuable buildings which belong to Lambeth and its people and were gifted specifically as libraries.

I strongly support the creation of a residents/staff trust which will bring together many local residents and experienced staff to retain and run all 10 Lambeth libraries – a proposal which should have been properly considered by officers when it was submitted in April 2015 and which OSC has specifically requested should be properly considered now.

Yours sincerely

Christina Burnett

Vauxhall CIC’

 

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About seancreighton1947

Since moving to Norbury in July 2011 I have been active on local economy issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly, and am a member of the latter's Environment Forum. I am a member of the 5 Norbury Residents Associations Joint Planning Committee, and a Governor of Norbury Manor Primary School. I write for Croydon Citizen at http://thecroydoncitizen.com. I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and advise the North East People's History Project.. I give history talks and lead history walks. I retired in 2012 having worked in the community/voluntary sector and on heritage projects. My history interests include labour movement, mutuality, Black British, slavery & abolition, Edwardian roller skating and the social and political use of music and song. I have a particular interest in the histories of Battersea and Wandsworth, Croydon and Lambeth. I have a publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications.
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