Library going, but what about the square?

There’s a carnival against the cuts at 12noon on Saturday, at the library (which the council have confirmed will be shut down permanently on 28th May). Thanks for listening Steve, really! Anyway, please show your support.

In the meantime:

  • What are the odds that now the library is out of the way, the property developers re-apply to build the Library Square, but this time sans the pesky Library?
  • Who is offering the £500k investment into Age Exchange, in return for moving the library?
  • What are the connections between the Blackheath Society, and the Library Square property developers?

Questions, questions….

From the Carnival against Cuts site:

All over the borough of Lewisham services are threatened and people being thrown out of their jobs because the Labour Mayor is accepting the Tory/Lib Dem cuts and has chosen to put sacrifice our vital services.

Here is the list of places where you can show your strength of feeling. There will be petitions, leaflets, balloons, songsheets.

Make a placard to show your disgust at Steve Bullock’s priorities. Dress up in a costume. Bring your old saucepans, kettles, whistles, drums to make a noise at 12 noon!

UPDATE: Lewisham Councils document outlining the closures, as well as various fee hikes. (PDF). (Thanks Jenny)


Filed under blackheath

21 responses to “Library going, but what about the square?

  1. Dr Nick

    Shame shame shame on Sir Steve Bullock. I believe he received his knighthood for services to the local community. You have to wonder what disservice would look like.

    I think that you should be wary of perpetuating/starting any conspiracy theories about connections between the (IMHO architect’s pipe-dream) “Library Square” idea, the Blackheath Society, and the closure of the Library.

    BSoc has supported the campaign to keep a library open. (For the record, BVRG supported keeping the existing library over the Age Exchange option). However, once closure was certain it looked like a choice between nothing and something that was still free to use.

    There are many wealthy, successful people in the BSoc, and many of them have lots of time and want to do something lasting for Blackheath – I think Library Square was that kind of project.

    Funding was going to be requested from a Millennium Grant, if I recall correctly, by the way. And a new library building would have been part of it, again IIRC.

    And funding for the Age Exchange option, which now looks like the only possible way forward for our library, was being put together from several sources as I understand, but the majority would come from the Council (yes!) because they would take it from one bit of budget and put it in another and it would count as savings. Other significant contributions would be sought from wealthy (and generally elderly) benefactors, and a recurring income from annual “friends of the library” subscriptions.

    Although it is possible that the Age Exchange scheme might benefit some Macchiavellian schemers, it’s more likely that several of our elderly neighbours will leave less money to their families, and we’ll have a (much smaller, not provided by our “state”) library still available.

    In the end, we have a nasty choice between nothing at all, and a fundamental change in our lives. I’m struggling with that too.

    But please don’t cast aspersions on those people who’ve tried to keep a library. It won’t be ideologically sound for many of us, but it’ll still be a library. And it’ll still be free to use – if the scheme succeeds.

    • Michele O'Brien

      @Dr Nick
      “… I think that you should be wary of perpetuating/starting any conspiracy theories about connections between the (IMHO architect’s pipe-dream) ‘Library Square’ idea, the Blackheath Society, and the closure of the Library …”

      Indeed we should. But it is a fact the Blackheath Society leadership, while expressing backing for the now defeated campaign to keep the library where it is, has throughout supported the alternative plan – now going ahead – to get the library out of ‘Library Square’ and into Age Concern.

      “The Society believes we are fortunate that, thanks to the very considerable efforts of Age Exchange, we are able to consider an alternative to the current expensive site,” notes the latest Blackheath Society newsletter.

      ” The proposal involves overhauling the Reminiscence Centre in the Village, a significant project costing £500,000, to accommodate a smaller but extensively modernised library (but open for significantly more hours) alongside the community efforts of Age Exchange,” it continues in the same enthusiastic tone.

      Architects pipe-dream or not, the ‘Library Square’ development idea, if it ever went ahead, would be a lucrative project for the developers involved as well as a major change for people living and working in the centre of Blackheath.

      As such, I think all residents would be wise to keep as close an eye as possible on developments, given the fog of secrecy and lack of reliable public information that normally shrouds these big money “pipe dreams”.

      Royal Mail’s longstanding wish to close the Post Office in ‘Library Square’, of course, has been repeatedly thwarted over the years. But for how much longer in these times of universal cutbacks?

      • Dr Nick

        I don’t mean to be obtuse or rude, but I am struggling to grasp the motivation for the thinly veiled accusations of all kinds of conspiracy around the closure of the Library.

        In stark terms, the choice was nothing or something *other* than the existing library. The “something other” option is still AFAIK not a certainty (vide other comments), but if we shoot it down, we will end up with nothing.

        AFAIK (‘cos I’m not a member) and as far as I can tell, what the Blackheath Society is doing is what happens in all kinds of societies and organisations: presenting, in as persuasive a way as possible, to its membership what its adopted position is. It may not represent the views of all members of BSoc, and it clearly doesn’t represent the views of all the readers of this Blog, but it has adopted a position.
        It’s not a public body, but it is influential. As I understand, members can object to resolutions of the committee, up to and including moving (and achieving) an EGM, and taking all kinds of sanctions – perhaps even removing the committee. So stop complaining and do something about it, disgruntled BSoc members.

        Regardless, these thinly veiled accusations against the Blackheath Society really should stop, now. It’s upsetting for the majority of us (I know some people who agree, so not all of us) that we’re losing the library. There’s no point in getting angry at this point, and shouting into the Internet. There was plenty of time for organisation and campaigning and persuasion in the past, and if you (plural, not specifically Michele) participated (like I did) and didn’t get what you wanted, then we have a right to feel hard done by, but not a right to invent borderline libellous fantasies.

        Equally, if you (plural again) didn’t participate, then you’ve got exactly what you wanted, which was whatever someone in an position of power decided.

        If everyone from now on could please preface their remarks either: “I campaigned to keep the library open” or: “I did nothing to keep the library open”, then I’ll be able to better weigh your opinions.
        (This last is intended almost entirely as a joke :)

  2. Nick

    Is the (Greenwich borough) library in the Standard also available to the Lewisham borough residents of Blackheath?

    • Library fan

      Yes, if you are resident in any London borough you can join any Library in any London borough.

    • Heart of the Village Resident

      Phew! First “bad temper”, then “sniping”, then “perpetuating/starting conspiracy theories” and now “borderline libelous fantasies”. Tut tut Bugle. You do seem to be stepping on a few over-sensitive toes.

      Dr Nick – I’m struggling to understand what a “borderline libel fantasy” is. Is it something like saying that a public servant has gained his knighthood for public service under false pretences? Even if that public servant is elected by and accountable to his community at the ballot box – unlike some people who claim to represent the interests of those living in Blackheath. For example, the management committee of the Blackheath Society?

      Or is a “borderline libel fantasy” something like suggesting that a person (such as Michele) is a malicious liar suffering from paranoid delusions because she believes, as I understand her comment, that we should be cautious about trusting the motives of local busybodies with wealth, power and influence, and who claim to represent our interests ? Especially when they have a history of making apparently inexplicable 360deg policy changes. Or appear to pursue contradictory policies.

      Or is it a mental health condition? (I notice you’re a doctor). Some kind of psychiatric disturbance? If so, does “borderline” refer to the condition or to the “libel”? And who exactly are the other people you believe suffer from that condition? Are they people who create some kind of cognitive tension in your mind by not seeing the world as you do?

      I accept that you’re not a member of the Blackheath Society and therefore can’t be blamed for having, shall we say, “unrealistic expectations” regarding its governance. I suggest you go to the Halls bar for a drink on the evening of Blackheath Soc’s next AGM and spend a few minutes studying its core membership. It will quickly become apparent to you that their time on Earth – as noted by several of those posting in connection with the NIMBY event – has not long to run. These are not people who have the appetite, time or energy for dangerous, radical ideas like transparency, democratic accountability or overthrowing their Society’s leadership. Probably most of them never did. It seems to me that, on the whole, its members are involved for social reasons and/or because they wish to be associated with good causes – they do not wish to burden their “twilight years” by becoming involved in the twists and turns and tedious detail of policy formulation and governance and keeping track of Howard Shields’ and his cronies’ latest manoeuvrings. Perhaps they should – but that’s not for me to say. It is after all a free country.

      And Dr Nick, I feel your pain at the prospect of losing the library but I think you may have got all this a bit out of proportion. Most normal people would not regard losing access to a local library as a “fundamental change” in their lives – especially when there are two others within a short bus ride or 20 minutes walking distance of the current library.

      And well done Michele for noting the inconsistency of the Society’s announcements. I share your views.

      • Dr Nick

        I’m not sure where the majority of your points have come from – not from things I’ve written, as anyone will be able to see if they scroll up and compare. You have consistently made subtle changes to things I *did* write though and presented them as what I wrote, which is misleading and manipulative, in much the same way as propaganda. I do hope anyone who’s interested scrolls back and checks.

        I want to say specifically that I haven’t and didn’t accuse Michele of anything, and I tried to make it clear in my reply to her post that I *wasn’t* referring to her, twice. It’s a shame you seem to imply I’m saying anyone, especially Michele, is a “…malicious liar suffering from paranoid delusions…”. This contrasts oddly with your conclusion that *I* have things a bit out of proportion, as anyone will be able to judge for themselves, again.

        (@Michele – I apologise if you took any offence, as none was intended – I think we’re having a discussion).

        I wanted to stop “borderline libel” being published (it’s a shame @Heart… was insulting rather than critical, because I am happy to discuss, but I’m not going to trade insults) because it’s a thing that people sometimes get sued for, and I’d hate to see the Bugle suffering as I do like it.

        I find being attacked personally a little depressing, but not surprising. I’m an (unpaid, volunteer) director of 2 different not-for-profit companies, and I think the boards of them do measurably good work for their beneficiaries. There aren’t many volunteers, whenever we try to add to our boards. There are lots of beneficiaries though, and the vast majority are supportive and constructive with ideas and criticism.

        There are also a very few who are really upsettingly unpleasant in their insults and attacks. They’ll make astonishing accusations and go all out on the attack, in a way I find inhumane and shocking. To date, we’ve for some reason never been able to recruit one of these people to actually do something of any help to anybody else.

        Shouting insults into the Internet isn’t quite as effective as positive action for change, but maybe it helps the individuals with the problems to work them through.

        Here’s to solipsism.

    • Katua

      Yes, but the shiny new building (and it is a lovely library space) is a greatly inferior library – if you count quality and quantity of good books – to Blackheath Village library. The latter of course has the community event space upstairs as well.
      My view is that if the BSoc had really put their considerable weight behind pressuring Mr Bullock and Council to save the library, it may have been helpful. A library of any quality and community presence in the Reminiscence Centre??! My feeling is that BSoc members buy any book they want to read.
      Now I expect the owner of the BVL site will inflict yet another restaurant on us in central BH.

      • Heart Of the Village Resident

        @Shouting insults into the Internet isn’t quite as effective as positive action for change@

        Tush, tush Dr Nick, please take a moment to look around you. You seem to be the only person who’s shouting – and quite loudly too.

        Now be honest: do you suffer from “borderline libelous fantasy”? If you do it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Despite what you seem to think, you are amongst friends here. Nobody wants to hurt you or has insulted you. And, although I’m not familiar with the condition, I’m sure that the modern pharmacopia contains many effective remedies for it.

        But perhaps I’ve missed the point and your intemperate language is some kind of @positive action for change@. If so, please continue ranting.

      • OK. Probably enough now. I’m away this week, and if I see any more angry posts from either of you, I’m probably not going to approve them. So be nice.

  3. Gina Raggett

    Deep, deep shame on Mayor Bullock for his arrogant and unfeeling disregard for the people who made 91,000 visits (council’s official figures) to Blackheath Village Library last year, for the 6000 supporters who signed the Save the Library petition and for the representatives of no fewer than 27 different countries of origin who attended the recent Big Read-In. And where is his concern for the Village traders who will undoubtedly suffer as the result of the closure, or for the librarians he is getting rid of?

    If Steve had ever visited Blackheath Village library and, heaven forfend, actually spoken to any of the punters, he would very soon have discovered that they are not for the most part your Amazon-ordering, Kindle-toting middle classes. They tend to be members of the vulnerable groups which he claims he is trying to protect and it is shocking in the extreme that he should dismiss their views simply because they have learnt to “shout louder”.

    If, and it is a huge if, there is to be some kind of reduced, alternative provision at Age Exchange, the fact is that Blackheath will be without a library for at least the next 18 months. Given that as recently as 26 January LBL claimed not to have received detailed proposals from AE, that Greenwich are rumoured to be withdrawing their grant and that a one-off payment from Lewisham is by no means certain, that timescale could stretch into years if not infinity. Meanwhile, it is the vulnerable groups supposedly championed by Mayor Bullock who will suffer.

    Yesterday morning, having just heard the bad news from Lewisham council, I visited AE to have a look at the 3d plans of the proposed new library. I was directed to a back room from which it turned out the plans had been removed. No one knew where they might be. No one showed any interest in helping me find them. It has to be said this doesn’t bode well for a library staffed by volunteers.

    LBL have been trying to close Blackheath library for years and it is hypocritical of Mayor Bullock to claim the decision was forced on him by Coalition cutbacks. The blame rests solely at his door. It has the name of Mayor Bullock writ large on it, a fact which will surely be reflected in the voting figures next time we have an opportunity to go to the polls. Once again: shame on you, Mayor Bullock.

    • House of joy

      Library. What do you all think of the idea being put about that Labour Councils are closing (or trying to close) libraries and other frontline services in order to show up the coalition? That Tory Councils are not closing libraries but other things which do not show? Services to their already deprived elderly residents perhaps?

      I support what GR says above. I don’ t want an apology for a library and, if Blackheath Village Library closes let it be clear for everyone to see – that Steve Bullock wants it closed. Then when a respectful length of time of mourning has passed we can look for solutions but I hate being pressurised into this by eager big society devotees. As has already been noted the Village Library has a huge number of members who use it regularly. They are not all Kindle Amazonians – far from it. Furthermore I was under the impression that the contract with the building limits the uses it can be put to.

  4. Gill S

    I was in AE around lunchtime yesterday (Friday). I just happened to spot a clipboard with a letter on it, saying that the 3D model of the proposed redevelopment would be on display at a concert this evening, at St Margaret’s Church in Lee Terrace — it’s a fundraising concert in aid of AE. I gather the 3D model will soon be on display in the AE premises. It sounds as if this redevelopment is going ahead, (1) as it’s the only way of keeping library facilities in the Village, and (2) it will be the only way of getting any continuing funding from Lewisham Council.

  5. Gina Raggett

    Gill S – I’m not sure I understand your reasons for believing the AE proposals will definitely go ahead. Lewisham has no statutory obligation to provide any kind of funding towards maintaining library facilities in Blackheath Village, let alone in the borough of Greenwich which is where AE is situated. Given that Greenwich have definitely withdrawn their £30K annual grant to AE, there are inevitably questions about Lewisham’s continuing involvement.
    As for the 3D model, I am informed this will shortly be on public display at the library (I mean the proper library in Blackheath Grove) even though the Library Users Group were forbidden from putting up posters there. No bias there, then!

  6. Gina Raggett

    Doing the rounds at the moment, in case you haven’t seen it, a wonderful spoof purporting to be Hitler’s take on library closures.

    This was produced by CILIP, who should be credited.

  7. Stephen Bollock

    This is disgusting. Are the Mayor, local councillors and Blackheath Society all deliberately misleading the public?

  8. Gina Raggett

    “Dr Nick” is right to draw attention to the pointlessness of online bickering, and what a shame the local community has been split into factions over the closure of the Village library. How much better if all parties could fight together to the bitter end to keep the Blackheath Grove premises instead of opting for the “better than nothing” approach which could lose us both AE and the library.
    But “Heart” is right too in saying that library users can simply hop on a bus to the Standard. There’s little doubt that most of them will do just that. The big problem for Blackheath is the loss of 91,000 visits a year by people who would most likely have indulged in some shopping, lunching or at least browsing to the benefit of local businesses. Retailers at the Standard suffered considerably while their library was closed for refurbishment: the effect on Blackheath traders could be far worse. Do we really want to lose our daytime economy altogether?
    Unlike Blackheath, which has only put forward one alternative proposal, Sydenham has been in discussion with at least 4 organisations interested in talking over library provision – these are listed below – and are in the happy position of knowing their library will both close and reopen under new management on 28 May. It may be a bit late in the day but is there no chance of the various Blackheath groups getting together to see whether something similar can be achieved here? Can’t they talk to these companies too? How about contacting Starbucks, the banks, the big supermarkets, anyone who likes to show a philanthropic side when it suits them? The battle to persuade Lewisham to let us keep a library has been lost. That doesn’t mean the war is over.

    Companies with an interest in taking over library provision:
    Exam Success Eduction Centre Limited:This company provides tutorial support to children who need help with their school and homework.
    Eco Computer Systems. A social enterprise company which offers IT recycling and refurbishment services, and reinvests profits into the business or uses them to fund other community projects. ECS currently support and run the new community library at Pepys Resource Centre.
    John Laing Integrated Services Ltd. This is a leading support services and facilities management business providing a full suite of operational services to public sector clients, spanning Libraries, local authority, education, rail, police, housing, health, waste and parks. They currently manage and deliver public libraries on behalf of a local authority, together with their leisure and culture portfolio in the London Borough of Hounslow.
    SociaCapita Solutions. SociaCapita Solutions is a Community Interest Company which has been set up to carry out a cluster of activities, including bidding for public sector contracts on behalf of private sector and third sector delivery organisations.

    • JP

      Dear Gina
      That is so right. I know a number of local people who would contribute money and effort to sustaining the library – and I’m sure you do too. Who do we need to speak to at Lewisham Council to understand the finances and what is needed, before it’s too late? J.

  9. Gina Raggett

    JP – Alas, I am just an OAP living on a council estate and a low income, but if you know people who could help, this is the time to do it. Lewisham are currently seeking bids for alternative library provision: just contact Aileen Buckton and Cllr Chris Best and copy your local councillors in for good measure.

    Whatever happens, adults are probably stuffed where local library use is concerned, but one suggestion doing the rounds is for a dedicated children’s library based on the existing book collection but not necessarily situated at Blackheath Grove. This would a) require smaller and cheaper premises; b) involve fewer hours of paid staff; c) ensure a continuing stream of visitors to the Village, something I view as essential in the current economic situation. Any takers?

    As will be clear to anyone who has read my posts, I have concerns about the proposals for alternative library provision put forward by Age Exchange. For this reason I have raised a number of issues with the chair of the library users’ group (BVLUG). It is with shock bordering on incredulity that I have to report receiving an email from AE chairman Sir Ian Mills asking me (and I am quoting verbatim) to ” … suspend asking further questions and expressing scepticism until [I am] better informed.”

    Leaving aside the obvious fact that I asked questions in order to be better informed, I can only wonder what kind of library AE might have in mind for us.

  10. Pingback: Meet your new library: 5 book shelves | The Blackheath Bugle

  11. Nick

    I remain baffled at the idea from Blackheathans that preserving their Library is more important than preserving other services, when there are three other libraries in walking distance of Blackheath Village.

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