Well, now we know. Lambeth has published its strategy for “Cultural Services by 2020”. It proposes closing Waterloo and Minet libraries, providing the statutory service through “town centre” libraries and no longer providing a service at Carnegie, Durning and Upper Norwood.
Community groups are invited to bid to an Endowment Fund to run a community library in those buildings. Lambeth will, crucially, continue to provide stock, technical and professional back-up. None of this comes remotely as a surprise. When Lambeth reviewed its library service in 2012 and declared the Carnegie to be a Community Hub it was clear that the status quo would not continue. The building is a huge potential community asset that most local people never set foot in. It costs £200,000 a year to run the building as a 31-hour a week library for around 1,500 adult and 1,000 children users, many of whom do not live in Lambeth. This is difficult to justify given the cuts to other vital services.
So, the challenge is to retain the library and develop the building for wider community benefit as well as generating income to sustain it into the future. The Project Group’s work aims at a Charitable Trust taking ownership of the building to run it as a Community Hub. Our Architects’ Options for a mix of new uses were exhibited and consulted on. Everything is on our website – www.carnegiehernehill.org.uk
Lambeth’s proposal to seek a community organisation to lead on running the library service came as a complete surprise; we always envisaged a Lambeth service in the building. So we urged the Friends of Carnegie Library, via an Open Letter, to accept this challenge and be that community organisation – we would support them in every way.
At the Friends’ AGM it was announced, without incidentally any debate, that the Friends would, instead, ask Lambeth to transfer the building to their user group so that they can commercially rent out space to subsidise the library service. It was not clear whether they will bid to the Endowment Fund if that asset transfer proposal fails. But what is clear is that unless someone steps up the library service will close in 2016.
In our view, this is a risky strategy. Lambeth will not allow the Friends to rent out space in a valuable building in order to subsidise a service it sees as marginal. Unless the building is used for much wider community benefit it will be disposed of. The Council has made clear both to us and the Friends that had the Community Hub project not been in development the Carnegie would have been added to the closure list. So, the Friends’ strategy is doomed, despite assertions at its AGM that Lambeth will back down in the face of a campaign.
It is one thing to take a principled stand against cuts but quite another to adopt a position that will lose us our library. So, the Community Hub project will press on, led by the Carnegie Shadow Trust Board (STB) while an independent process is set up with the Council to recruit the proposed Carnegie Trust. It will apply for an Asset Transfer, develop a Preferred Option and a Business Plan. Architects will be appointed to prepare detailed architectural drawings and funding applications. This project proposes a major refurbishment of the building, to ensure its future as a community asset for generations to come.
If the Friends decline to bid separately to fund the professional staff and space needed to run a community library then I will urge the Carnegie STB to do the job itself. Herne Hill must close ranks; we will get one bite at this cherry and failure is not an option!
Chair, Carnegie Herne Hill Shadow Trust Board
Friend of Carnegie Library
The Herne Hill Society published an altered version of this article in the Summer 2015 issue of their Magazine.