A group of volunteers have reopened New Cross Library on a six-week trial – which could lead to a longer lease.
New Cross is one of five Lewisham libraries that were closed by the council in May, despite local protest and a petition signed by 5,500 people. Four of the libraries have now been reopened by social enterprises Age Exchange and Eco Computer Systems – who also placed an unsuccessful bid to run New Cross library.
Since August 10, a group of local volunteers, with the help of community charity Bold Vision, have been running the New Cross People’s Library in the old library building on New Cross Road. Open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, they hold knitting clubs, children’s activity workshops and talks from book experts as well as lending books . Lewisham Council still provide some community library services, including running their children’s summer reading challenge.
The library will be open until September 21, after which the volunteers hope to be granted a new nine-month licence by the council.
Speaking to EastLondonLines, volunteer Kath Dunbar explained why she feels so strongly about the importance of a library to the community. She said: “I’ve lived in the area for a long time and raised four children here so I know what a difficult area it is. It needs all the services it can get.”
Without financial backing, the members of New Cross People’s Library turned to local community charity Bold Vision to help them secure the existing building. Kath said: “Bold Vision have signed for the licence and can apply for grants for us. Once we’re up and running we can establish ourselves as a charity. I believe the long-term tenancy will go ahead. The council will see the support we’re getting and we’re having regular meetings with them.
“They took about 60 per cent of the books but we’ve had lots of donations from the public and local businesses. The council still want us to pay rent on the building so we’re fundraising and we’ve also had a grant from the RSA to improve the outside of the building.”
Dunbar said that ideally they would not have wanted the library to close: “We never anticipated running a library when we started the campaign [to save it]. We’re learning all the time and have ex-librarians and people who’ve worked in bookshops who are helping us.
“We want the library to be a more welcoming place and offer services alongside book lending. We’re listening to the public and know what the community want and need. We’re hoping to have a community police surgery once a month and a healthy eating clinic. This is the new future for libraries.”
Paul Bell, Labour councillor for Telegraph Hill, added: “We believe New Cross People’s Library is worth fighting for. It is a movement not born of a big society but of a community working together for others. I think we all want the council to provide these services with paid staff, but idealism always needs to be tempered by pragmatism. The future battles ahead will be challenging but we can achieve a long-lasting legacy to defy those that say New Cross does not need a library.”