Local groups urged to run libraries under threat

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Lewisham community groups have been urged to take over five local libraries in a bid to save them from closure.

Libraries in New Cross, Blackheath, Sydenham, Grove Park and Crofton Park are under threat as the council cuts back on public spending. But Lewisham Mayor Sir Steve Bullock is hoping to save the libraries by inviting community organisations to step forward and run the facilities themselves.

Chris Best, who is a Labour councillor for Sydenham and Cabinet Member for Community Services, is overseeing the take-over of the libraries and is currently accepting bids from interested parties.

She said: “We are exploring ways of providing local services and relieving financial pressures. We’re taking libraries to a different level. We’re modernising and looking to the future.”

Incoming community organisations would be encouraged to use the libraries in innovative new ways.

The council are looking for an “anchor group” to take over one or more of the libraries, providing financial security as well as working closely with the community to ensure a good service is maintained.

Cllr Best suggested theatre performances and film screenings could be incorporated alongside traditional functions, such as homework sessions and reading groups, to create self-sufficient “resource spaces”. She also suggested that library space could be let to office workers.

“I’m not thinking about commercialisation. Ideally, we’d like the groups to work together on the buildings. This is about community engagement,” she said.

The decision to allow community organisations to take over the libraries was made after local campaign groups put pressure on Sir Steve to rethink the proposed closures.

But James Holland, founder of the Save New Cross Library campaign, is worried that library services could be impacted if community groups take over.

“We don’t want a charitable organisation taking over the library, using three quarters of the building for themselves, then pushing the library into a corner,” he said.

Gillian Gadsby, spokeswoman for the Blackheath Village Library Users’ Group, said: “Our preferred option would be for [the council] to let the top floor and keep the library open as normal.”

Information packs will be available from Lewisham council on December 10. Interested organisations should register to receive a pack by emailing librarybuildings@lewisham.gov.uk .

The deadline for expressions of interest is January 20, 2011.

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