Campaigners inside Carnegie Library, Herne Hill are continuing their protest against Lambeth council’s plans to close one of the borough’s most popular libraries and install a fee-charging private gym with an unattended room full of books.
With the occupation now entering its sixth day, public support for the 40 campaigners inside the building remains strong, despite Lambeth now applying for a possession order to evict them.
Early this morning, the campaigners released a press release questioning the role of Greenwich Leisure Ltd in Lambeth’s plans:
The 40 occupiers at Carnegie Library, Herne Hill, London – including children and teenagers – begin their sixth day living inside the library on Tuesday (April 5).
They are protesting Lambeth council’s determination to close one of the borough’s most popular libraries and spend millions on installing a fee-charging private gym. This is against overwhelming public opposition.
Equally baffling is the silence of Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL), the social enterprise secretly handed a contract by Lambeth to run two such gyms on former library premises. GLL would get attractive, high-quality buildings at a ‘peppercorn rent’ (unspecified), with up to £3m allocated for gym installation and a further £1m revenue to shore up their operation.
The plan was developed, in secret, in summer 2015. It attracted ridicule and outrage when revealed last October.
This is part of a plan to close four out of Lambeth’s 10 libraries and replace them – some time next year – with ‘lounges’ that will be smaller (size unspecified), hold some stock (amount unspecified) but have no staff on site to help people.
The council’s own report to Cabinet (October 12, 2015) makes it clear that unstaffed libraries will seriously disadvantage a long list of current users, who will find it hard to access a proper library service elsewhere. The list includes women, small children, schoolchildren, older people, disabled people and those on low incomes.
And, with no staff to safeguard them, children will not even be able to enter the ‘lounges’ unless they have an adult with them.
GLL gives limited information on its website about its operations, but prides itself on being an ethical, community-oriented enterprise. 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.
Campaigners in Lambeth have many questions to ask the about the secret deal, struck by some Lambeth officers with GLL. So far their efforts have been concentrated on trying to convince Lambeth that it is wasting money, while making itself very unpopular.
Letters to GLL Managing Director Mark Sesnan have, so far, yielded little.
Laura Swaffield, chair of the Friends of Lambeth Libraries, added:
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.
Meanwhile, the adults occupying the library are buoyed up by our supporters, who are more numerous than ever. Hundreds come to the barred entrance every day, to offer whatever help we need.
They tell us how disgusted they are at Lambeth council’s arrogance and refusal to listen.
“And the kids are all right! The younger ones have a wonderful library and garden to play in. The teens have a quiet room to study – it is peak exam revision time, and they would have had nowhere else to go. We are sorry for the many other children who have been locked out by the council. We have seen parents and children in tears.
We are inundated with food, blankets, mattresses and everything that we might need. We have never eaten so well! Donations of wine have shot up after Lambeth councillor Rezina Chowdhury tweeted a photo of us, critical of us for having dinner together inside the library.
“We’ve had the nearby church, St Saviour’s, leading a sing-song; a poetry reading; a local choir; visits by Lambeth authors Stella Duffy, Toby Litt and Alex Wheatle along with many other individual performers. We’ve also continued the free weekly chess club, by playing outside on the steps.
And poignantly, we’ve been visited by the members of Ruskin Readers – a club that gave free one-to-one help in the library to adults who have difficulty reading. This had been provided free for over 40 years. Lambeth’s Labour council just told them to find somewhere else – and pay for it.
The problem here is: Lambeth’s Labour council, along with its mysterious alliance with GLL
188 Herne Hill Road
London, SE24 0AG
More info and background:
Take a look around the library in our photo feature.
Defend The 1o website