Communities Mobilise: To try and reverse effects of Budget Cuts

8.16news - 08:2011 Edition

Following the closure of many Council run or funded facilities, some members of the communities that use these facilities have decided to step-up to either run or fundraise and in some cases do both.

New Cross Library

One case in point is the New Cross Library, the only Lewisham Council run library that did close down on 28 May 2011 without an alternative in place.

Whilst Crofton Park, Grove Park and Sydenham buildings are now managed by a combination of Eco Computer Systems staff and volunteers (with temporary leases). The community library service at Blackheath is now housed in the Reminiscence Centre, which is run by Age Exchange staff and volunteers.

Darren Taylor of Eco Computer Systems did spearhead a bid to run New Cross also, but it was rejected on the basis that with his company already running the Pepys Resource Centre, the Council thought taken on four more libraries would be overextending the resources he could muster.

This spurred Cathy Dumbar, Gill Hart and Lucia Graves (who had been involved as volunteers in the Eco Computer Systems bid) to form the New Cross Community Library Steering Committee.

With plans to offer extended opening hours and a wider range of activities for all sections of the community members of the Committee decided re-name the organisation New Cross People’s Library (NXPL) Steering Committee and join forces with Bold Vision (a community led organisation working to make Telegraph Hill an even more amazing place to live) who run The Hill Station in Telegraph Hill.

As Gill Hart explains, “Partnering with Bold Vision allows us to draw on their experience and expertise.”

To which Catherine Shovlin of Bold Vision adds, “We have become seen in part as an incubator for new community projects in the area. NXPL plans are exactly in line with the mission and values of Bold Vision so made a lot of sense to us.”

Negotiations are ongoing with Lewisham Council where the two local community enterprises have come together with a business plan that they hope will secure the future of the Library.

Funding and annual rental charges are proving to be possible obstacles during negotiations with the Council. The rent could be £16,000 for the ground floor alone, and £30,000 for the whole building annually, which would be a massive financial burden for NXPL to come up with.

As Gill Hart pointed out, “We’re waiting on clarification on what annual rents the Council wants and how these relate to the use of the building in part or in full. It also becomes a little more complicated in that the building is managed by Lewisham Homes.

“We are looking at opening at least three days per week with one late night, which would be more than the opening hours of New Cross Library as run by the Council,

“Our vision is to create a learning centre for the community that provides a library service alongside computer, Internet and literary workshops as well as activities for under-5s.”

There is also the question of the current stock of 26,000 books, NXPL would like them to remain at New Cross but the Council wants to reduce them by 50%. It also appears unlikely that a self-service system will be installed as part of the planned new library service.

NXPL plan to use volunteers to staff the library as well as run other activities and say they have between 50 and 100 volunteers already recruited and awaiting training.

Lewisham library staff would be providing support and training to the volunteers in the initial period. They will also visit regularly to maintain the community library service in the building. This service will include reader development activities for residents of all ages, including story time sessions, reading groups, and the summer reading challenge.

But progress has been made as Bold Vision and the New Cross People’s Library met with Lewisham Council recently, arranging a short-term licence for August opening to be followed by a Tenancy at Will.

The Library would also be opening during this summer holiday (2011) on Tuesdays and Thursdays 10am to 1pm with children’s activities running 11.45am-12.45pm during the school holidays offering: A summer reading scheme, regular borrowing but no computer access at the moment.

So if you live, work or study in the New Cross area or nearby, why not visit the Library and make use of the services there. As this just might be a case of “Use it! Or Lose it!”

Read about the Pumphouse on Page 2 >

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