250 local people turned out on April Fool’s Day to ridicule the “mad” closure of the Carnegie Library in Lambeth, London. Banners and fancy dress made the point.
Speakers included comedian Jeremy Hardy and authors Stella Duffy, OBE, Toby Litt and Barbara Ellis.
The loudest applause was for Rachel Heywood, the sole Labour councillor (out of Lambeth’s huge majority of 59) to speak out against the closures. She has been suspended from the party.
The library closed on 31 March, 2016 – and was immediately occupied by protestors, attracting worldwide media cover.
When they left 10 days later, 2,000 supporters marched with them to Lambeth’s Windrush Square – the largest protest seen there in 30 years.
A year later, the library stays closed. Closure has cost more than keeping it open, with the building still paying rates and utilities, staff still on the payroll – and a hefty extra bill for security staff.
The council now plans to spend up to £3m on installing a gym there – although four surveys have shown that local people don’t want one, and the council’s own sports strategy states that none is needed in the area
The library will be replaced by a much smaller, minimally-funded, largely unstaffed “community library”. The same fate awaits three more of Lambeth’s 10 heavily-used libraries.
Serious questions are being asked about Lambeth council’s deal with GLL (Greenwich Leisure Ltd) to run the gym.
The deal was kept secret until the last legally-possible date, then rushed through Cabinet with no publicity and no consultation. No business plan or financial rationale has ever been produced.
Local people, using new investigative powers under the government’s People’s Audit* scheme, have uncovered disturbing new aspects of the deal – and the council’s repeated refusal to consider obvious options that could easily have saved the library service.
Michaela Loebner, Defend the 10 campaign: “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, Friends of Carnegie Library: “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: “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: “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: “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, DEPAC (Disabled People Against the Cuts): “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, Defend the 10 campaign: “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: “It’s not just that the council doesn’t understand what libraries do. This is ideologically driven. The Progress faction 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.”
Councillor Rachel Heywood: “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.”