The council has confirmed that Social Care in Action (SCA) and Unexpected Places (UP) have been successful in their bid to run Cobbett Road Library, where council funding is shortly set to stop. Other groups will run other threatened Southampton branch libraries.
Threatened library wins reprieve
TV presenter, naturalist and photographer Chris Packham supports campaigners at Cobbett Road Library in February 2015 Pic:© Steve Hickman
The announcement yesterday (March 17) follows a long process that put the future of Southampton's local libraries under the microscope, and saw nearly 8,000 people take part in a council libraries consultation.
It also involved many hours of community and council meetings, and much campaigning by library supporters across the city to keep the issue in spotlight. Cobbett Road even made the pages of Private Eye and was talked about on Radio 5.
After various procedural delays over the summer, the Labour council finally voted to withdraw funding at five libraries and the mobile service, blaming budget cuts from central government of £40 million.
As a solution, community groups were invited to express interest in running them.
Following yesterday's council's announcement, Cllr Satvir Kaur, the cabinet member responsible for libraries, said:
“Last year we made a commitment to transform the library service in Southampton and keep all library buildings open. This announcement shows we have delivered on this commitment and marks a major milestone in our journey to ensure a sustainable future for all library buildings in our city.
“Southampton City Council has worked with local communities, organisations and partner agencies to ensure a long-term sustainable future for our libraries. Unlike many other local authorities, despite severe budget cuts, no library buildings will be closing in Southampton.”
Responding to the news, the Friends of Cobbett Road Library (FOCRL) said they are “very much looking forward to supporting SCA and UP in securing an exciting and sustainable future for Cobbett”.
“All of us are keen to keep the community very much involved in making Cobbett exactly what the community wants and needs.”
Ruth Marriott, SCA Group CEO, told bitternepark.info: “SCA are extremely pleased to be working with UP and FOCRL to take the library forward. We are pleased that we have been an enabler to the [friends group], being able to take forward their dreams for use of the space.
“We have the same aspirations: to make it a space that people in the community can come together to enjoy reading, literature, and community activities – a space where people can learn informally, socialise and feel they belong.”
Rosanna Sloan, Artistic Director of Unexpected Places and Acting UP, said: “'We are very excited to be able to save this important community building to ensure it has a bright and busy future.
“Unexpected Places look forward to being able to provide accessible arts provision at the centre, by programming and delivering a wide range of activities and events to ensure it continues to be an important community asset - alongside our partner SCA and the support of a very hardworking friends group.”
MP for Southampton Itchen Royston Smith (Con) told bitternepark.info he was “relieved a solution has been found” for Cobbett Road Library.
“I would like to pay tribute to the friends group who never gave up. It was unthinkable to lose this much loved local facility. I hope the arrangements that have been put in place will ensure its long term future and I look forward to my next visit,” he said.
Stephen Fenerty, the Labour candidate for Bitterne Park ward in forthcoming local elections, also paid tribute to the work of the friends group, and as well as to the work of Labour councillors.
“I'm especially pleased for Rachel [Hickman, FOCRL secretary], Kevin [Lancashire, FOCRL chair] and all the members and supporters of FOCRL, whose amazing hard work and efforts should be recognised, along with the work behind the scenes by Cllr Kaur, and Cllr Keogh and Cllr Lewzey of our neighbouring Peartree ward, who were heavily involved in discussions,” he said.
“Tonight's news about Southampton libraries is good news for our city. The task now is to ensure we can continue to protect our libraries for future generations, as we face even greater cuts from central government.”
Nick Chaffey of the The Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition said the council should "restore funding to libraries immediately from their reserves and campaign for the government to restore their funding".
Although the handover was originally expected to be April 1, SCA and UP are now expected to take over the running of Cobbett Road Library from June 1. It's thought the council will keep the library open as the transition takes place.
During the transition, anyone that takes a book out of any of the affected libraries will be given more time to return it.
The council says books will still remain part of the whole city wide collection with many of the library systems remaining the same. People will still be able to reserve and renew books in all the libraries and access similar services across all of the sites. Free internet access will remain in all libraries and customers need not change their library card to use their local library.
At other Southampton libraries
Elsewhere in the city the council says the following groups will take over other branch libraries:
- The Burgess Road Library Action Group (in partnership with Christ Church Southampton, a locally based charity) will provide library services from Burgess Road Library.
- Thornhill Community Library, a newly formed local charity group, will continue to provide library services from Thornhill Library.
- The YMCA, a local community charity that has been serving the city since 1878, will provide a community library in the new unit when it is completed in Weston, in the meantime services will continue from the portacabin.
- In Millbrook, the library resources will be moved into the Solent NHS Trust Pickles Coppice Children’s Centre where the Sure Start Service is based.
18/3/16 Updated to include comment from Nick Chaffey