Upper Norwood Library under threat as Croydon councillors plan to end their share of funding

Children enjoy one the library's many events pic: Crystal Palace Community Association

The battle to stop the closure of Upper Norwood Library reached a climax when Conservative councillors said they would end their share of funding for the library next March.

The library is the last surviving jointly-funded independent library in England. It  sits on the border between Croydon and Lambeth.

The funding announcement came on Monday evening at a council meeting.

The 111-year-old library on Westow Hill was managed under a joint agreement between the two councils until an argument erupted in October, when Croydon announced it had terminated the joint agreement. Croydon Council accused Lambeth Council of a breach of contract by failing to attend and co-operate at the 2010 and 2011 annual general meetings.

The decision was described by Pat Ryan, Labour councillor for Upper Norwood, as an “unwarranted and inappropriate takeover” on the part of Croydon Conservatives that had not been agreed by either Lambeth Council or the public.

Ryan said: “In all my years as a Croydon councillor I have never experienced such appalling behaviour as that displayed in recent months by the present administration concerning the Upper Norwood library.”

The debate has already generated huge public opposition, with one citizen being asked to leave the council meeting when he protested by  refusing to stand for the mayor. Others were holding placards saying ‘save our library’ and ‘ask what the people from Croydon think’.

Lambeth Council has been given three options including: buying Croydon’s share of the library, taking out a lease on Croydon’s half share of the premises and running the service, or agreeing to sell off the library completely.

As a self-sufficient service, the Upper Norwood Library is not part of the council run system, although it does receive funding from it.

Last week, over 300 people attended a meeting set up by independent campaign group, Crystal Palace Community Association, to discuss how they can prevent the library’s closure.

John Payne, organiser of the meeting and leader of CPCA, said: “Unlike other libraries it’s tailor-made to meet the needs of locals who have a say in how it is run. If the library closes it will take away an essential part of community life.”

The library runs regular special events and activities such as Reading and Creative Writing groups for adults, as well as a variety of activity and book clubs for children.

Rachel Ward, 49, Upper Norwood resident and mother of two children said: “It’s such a lifeline to both my daughters. There’s nothing else in walking distance that provides the same service.

“My daughter has Downs syndrome and the speech and language classes have really helped her.  The people who run the classes are completely dedicated to the community and offer such essential support.”

Rachael Ward also added that for her it is a great way to meet local people: “I have so many friends with little ones who I chat to and see regularly.”

The Upper Norwood Library Campaign, currently working with CPCA to save the library, urged councillors on Monday night to hold a meeting with Lambeth Council to discuss the future of the library.

The joint library has survived two World Wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s and numerous severe recessions since it first opened to the public in 1900.

Joseph Figuiera, chair of the campaign said: “This library has suffered and got through many hard times, it can surely get through this. What we are campaigning for is for the two councils to negotiate and find a solution.” Campaigners say they will continue their fight to save the library and urge members of the public to join the campaign. To get involved, e-mail cpca@onetel.com.

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