In December we presented our case to Lambeth Council’s Asset Transfer Technical Panel for the Carnegie Herne Hill Community Trust to take ownership of the Carnegie Library building. We passed, and were given the “green light” to complete the work needed to enable Lambeth to transfer the building to us. We will be submitting the next batch of supporting documents, the Business Plan, in the Spring. This is the break-through for Herne Hill.
A Little Bit of History
In 2012 Lambeth Council conducted a review of its library service and concluded that it would no longer provide the library service in the Carnegie building. The number of users had been steadily declining from that for which the building had been designed and the library now occupied only part of the available space. So rather than close the building Lambeth proposed it be adapted as an independent Community Hub to be owned and operated by a charitable trust.
A group of local people, including The Friends of Carnegie Library, came together in a Project Group to explore the feasibility of that idea and, if it was judged to be viable, to set in place the necessary arrangements. Lambeth set a number of rigorous conditions to meet before the building could be transferred, and over two years the Project Group worked to comply. Once the proposal was sufficiently advanced the Project Group handed over responsibility to The Carnegie Herne Hill Community Trust CIO, the legal entity needed to apply for grants, to take it to completion.
The Project Group and now the Community Trust (CCT) have always been adamant that the Community Hub must contain a library. The Hub must also take its theme from the library and become a centre for educational, cultural and community uses. With architects and other consultants, a range of options was developed and put to the community. Following that consultation a Preferred Option has now been agreed that embraces a library and a wide range of existing and new activities. It specifically rules out a private nursery, private flats or a private gym.
The Way Ahead
We believe that neither preserving the status quo at Carnegie nor converting it to a gym are realistic options. Instead the way ahead for Carnegie is for:
- a Community Trust to take ownership of the building, to be a community-owned and operated Community Hub
- the building to include an Enterprise Library
- the Community Trust to work with whichever agency is chosen to operate the library in the building. If no-one else will do it, then the Community Trust will aim to operate a staffed library to offer the same services as before
CCT was not consulted on, nor had advance notice about, Lambeth’s proposal to transfer the building to Greenwich Leisure Ltd, and has not since been in discussion with either of them about this. We do not believe it makes sense to close the library on 31st March, to close the building for capital works (changing rooms, showers etc.) and to re-open it as a private gym with a tiny ‘library’ in it. We have stated our opposition to that course of action.
CCT plans to recruit a fully representative Board of Trustees, supported by a membership organisation, to own and operate the building. The aim is to take ownership of the Carnegie building as soon as possible this year and maintain it for existing and new activities.
By the end of this government’s term of office Lambeth’s budget will have been cut by 60%. It is inconceivable that the existing Lambeth Library Service can be unaffected. So we believe a way must be found, while there is still time, to transfer the Carnegie Library building to a charitable and representative local trust and maintain a library in it. To achieve this the Community Trust will negotiate with the Council to get the best deal we can for Herne Hill. It is naïve to campaign to maintain the status quo in Carnegie when we know Council budget cuts are unavoidable. The Community Trust now has viable alternative proposals to maintain the Carnegie as a community resource, both to serve its existing users and offer services and activities to the other 25,000 people who live or work within a 15-20 minute walk and, indeed, beyond.
Carnegie Community Trust CIO