Cobbett Road Library - we saved it!

Cobbett Cake

“It’s amazing. It’s fantastic! It restores your faith that the public do have a say, and that it’s worth doing something,” said resident Rachel Hickman on hearing the news that Cobbett Road Library has escaped the axe!

An amended Liberal Democrat Budget Resolution, passed this afternoon (Feb 14), included withdrawing  "savings dependent on library closure.” The turnaround came following a remarkable community campaign, which brought together a broad range of people, and which seemed to take on a life of its own.

before the budget
Before the budget meeting
“There have been so many people, separately, doing stuff: people putting their own leaflets and signs up - it’s been wonderful,” said Rachel.

“My main feeling is one of great relief,” said retired librarian Doreen le Huquet outside the Civic Centre after the meeting. “It certainly should not have been on the agenda, and I’m very glad it has come off. I hope it will stay open for many years to come, so that everyone can benefit. It’s one of the things that is open to absolutely every resident to use, and they’ve shown their support for it.” She also praised the role had played in the campaign, which also involved petitioning, leafleting, lobbying councillors and successfully getting the word out in the media.

John Denham with library users
Residents were supported by the ward councillors and Itchen MP John Denham. Earlier in the campaign John Denham described the facility as
"much-loved":  "It is part of the community, many of its users are elderly and would not find it easy to travel to other libraries in the City. Once it has gone, it will never be replaced,” he said.

Cllr Peter Baillie
Cllr Peter Baillie
Following the decision, Councillor Peter Baillie said: "I am delighted that Cobbett Road Library will remain open. Hopefully it will remain as a vital part of the community infrastructure in Bitterne Park for many years to come. Thanks must go to everyone who helped with the fantastic community response in opposing this proposed closure - I and Phil Williams were delighted to have played a part in reversing what would have been a quite disgraceful decision to close the library. This is a good day for Bitterne Park."
Cllr Phil Williams
Cllr Phil Williams

The campaign also drew support from such well-known names as
author Philip Pullman (Dark Materials trilogy etc), Channel 4’s Bremner, Bird and Fortune, and BBC presenter Chris Packham.

In a letter to the Council, Philip Pullman said: “As an author I know how important it is to make books as widely available as possible, but as a library user I know that a local library is much more than just a source of books. It is a vital educational resource, a centre for the local community to share information and enjoyment, a place free of commercial pressures that allows everyone to follow their own interests and their minds. I know that libraries have helped me, as they've helped countless others, to make all kinds of discoveries and to enrich my life beyond measure.”

school banner

John Bird, representing
Bremner, Bird and Fortune, said: "We know that central government always leaves councils underfunded and presumably always will, but the provision of good, easily accessible libraries is one of the most valuable things a local authority does and when times are tight they should be the last things to be cut, not the first.

"What could be better for Southampton’s future than to have generations of children who are literate, lively-minded and intellectually curious? The city will certainly get a better return on that than from flogging off a bit of land. And it would do more for its image than any number of laser displays."

Bitterne Park Infants
Bitterne Park Infants

BBC presenter Chris Packham, who regularly visited the library as a child, said: " I am a firm believer that libraries are an essential resource in the community for both their social and educational aspects.  Despite the age of the Internet books retain a real value and these days libraries have become a lot more than shelves full of the latter.  It will be a real shame if this library closes, not for those nostalgics and generations of those who have already used it, but for those who have yet to enjoy the passage through its doors."

Update: Library users enjoyed a celebration at the Library on Saturday morning (Feb 18). At one point it was hard to get in the door of the meeting room, as residents listened to speeches, chatted and enjoyed some cake, made especially for the occasion. There has been a renewed interest in making use of the Library's meeting room, and a 'friends of the library' group is being formed.

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