Farewell To Blackheath Library

Farewell to Blackheath Library poster
Spotted on a tree along Pond Road, a “farewell to Blackheath Library” poster:

Blackheath Village LIbrary Users’ Group

Farewell To Blackheath Library

Please join us for a meeting to mark the closure, on May 27th 2011, of our village library.

The meeting will take place on Tuesday 17 May from 7-8.30pm at the Bakehouse, Bennett Park, (behind Age Exchange).

We shall thank our supporters and librarians, and formally wind up the Users’ Group. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Wine and soft drinks will be available for a donation on the night.

Any queries to se3villagelibrary (at) yahoo.co.uk or 020 8852 4032.

I hope the councillors who agreed to close it have the balls to attend.

UPDATE: My Latin typo corrected (I blame comprehensive educayshun you know….)


Filed under blackheath, blackheath village, books, library

21 responses to “Farewell To Blackheath Library

  1. Pingback: Alan Bennett Joins Brent Libraries Fundraiser | Londonist

  2. Latinista

    Actually, Bugle, it’s sic transit, not sit, which just shows how much we all need libraries.
    I’ll be amazed if councillor Kevin Bonavia (Lewisham, Lab) attends tomorrow’s party. He’s joined the board of trustees of Age Exchange in which capacity he has helped them secure £200K’s worth of public money. They don’t even have to provide a halfway decent library in return. Nice one!

    • Oops. Fixed. They dropped Latin after two weeks at my school you know. We had to do German instead…

    • Kevin Bonavia

      Yes I hope to be there tonight. The Blackheath Village Library Users’ Group have put in a lot of effort to save the library – managing to get well over 6,000 signatures for a petition to the Mayor and many members have been involved in trying to ensure the best outcome in the replacement. I believe their lobbying has been crucial given the massive pressures on Lewisham Council’s budget not only this year, but for the next 3 years at least.

      On £200k funding, you can’t have your cake and eat it: a library service, even if mainly run by volunteers, does not come free. This is one-off funding to cover adaptation and set-up costs of the new library. The current library premises are leasehold, so over the long term a substantial saving will come from the library moving out.

      I have supported the funding, because I strongly believe we need to keep a public library in the village, not only to be able to obtain books, but more importantly to keep a public space in the village for the community. The Age Exchange plan is a big challenge for the charity, but if it works then it will mean we keep a library for the community whilst promoting what Age Exchange does for our older people among many more of our local residents regardless of age. There is still a long way to go to get it right, but I hope it will be worth it.

      • So presumably there won’t suddenly be a land-grab by property developers on the site of the former library… I don’t think 5 bookshelves constitutes a library.

      • Dr Nick

        Blackheath Village Library is the only library of those being closed whose building isn’t owned by Lewisham Borough Council – it’s leased.

        So what happens to it now is up to the owners of the building.

        It was this issue that made it harder to save Blackheath Village than the others (in my humble opinion), as a new building was needed as well as an alternative means of running a library.

        I went to the meeting last night, and as I said there, I think we shouldn’t be 100% happy, because we haven’t got a true like for like replacement, and because we couldn’t save the current library either.

        But I reckon at least 70% happy is appropriate. And there were a lot of people who did a lot of work for free trying to save it too – whose praises I would like to try to sing, if I can just get my voice to sound above the other stuff for a couple of paragraphs!

        So, thanks to the BVLUG (Library Users’ Group), who won in 1999, and achieved a moral victory with a settlement in 2010.

        I look forward to the time when “Citizen” once again means more than “source of income for the Treasury”.

  3. chad valley

    I’d like to know how the organisers behind the Blackheath music festival plan to deal with further library closures that will inevitably result from the actions of people attending this event.

  4. Pingback: Counting the cost: On Blackheath festival off for 2011 « 853

  5. Gina Raggett

    Kevin – Hallo! I’m sorry you won’t answer the various questions I’ve put to you, as one of my local councillors, via email so let’s try again via this blog. As I’ve said to you before, no-one doubts the excellence of the work begun by Pam Schweitzer OBE at Age Exchange on behalf of lonely and disadvantaged elderly people: long may it continue.
    I have two main questions for you. First, why did the £200K being allocated to AE (LB Greenwich) have to come from Lewisham’s libraries budget? Because we sure as heck aren’t getting a library in return. As Mr Bugle rightly observes: 5 shelves!
    What is far more alarming, however, is the destruction of children’s library services in Blackheath. Many of the prep and primary schools in the area have no space for a library. Regular visits to Blackheath Grove have enabled them to browse, handle and choose from over 10,000 books, a frontline, civilising arrangement which we in the UK wrongly thought was safe from people like you and Mayor Bullock.
    What AE is proposing in exchange is, according to the published plans, a basement cubby hole measuring roughly 2m x 2m. Clearly, a space that size cannot accommodate groups of schoolchildren and in any case the number of books available will have been cut by two-thirds. Unlike adults, children will find the automated book borrowing system of little use: how is a 7-year-old to know what he wants to read from a list of titles or authors? Even the extended opening hours are of little use: lunchtimes are just that where schools are concerned. I’m at a loss to understand how you can defend this.
    Second: Again referring to AE’s published proposals, other than a much enlarged cafe, I am unable to find much that benefits the wider community. I can see nothing for families, or teenagers, or groups such as U3A. There’s been so much talk of a “community hub” I feel I must be missing something and would welcome being put right.

    • Kevin Bonavia

      Dear Gina,
      I hope you’ve got my replies to your most recent email. In answer to your questions here: first, on £200k coming from the library budget, this is to reflect the fact that the library site can’t be transferred as it is held under a lease (unlike the other library sites which are held freehold by Lewisham). The grant will cover adaptation costs and loss of income to the charity while construction work is carried out. Yes, AE is in the LB of Greenwich, but it serves people across Blackheath and beyond, just as the Village Library served non-Lewisham residents too. And it will be a library – not as big and with as many books before, but at least a public space to share knowledge in the heart of the community. That’s something worth working for, when all around other vital public services are also under threat from the most savage cuts to local government for over 80 years.
      Second, on use of the library: you’re right about the children’s library – the new area isn’t nearly big enough for school groups. I understand that arrangements will be made to give groups a larger section of the library for their visits. Similarly, the library will host adult readers’ groups as before. This is not a panacea to all of Blackheath’s community needs, but it can do good for our community, so we have to try to make it work.

  6. House of joy

    First of all – the original did have “sic” not “sit” Secondly dear Mr Bonavia – we did have our cake and we ate it over many years, but Sir Steve’s appetite for cake exceeded that of the greediest amongst us and he stole our cake. Lastly Sir Ian Mills was quoted as saying (in a recent Blackheath Society newsletter) that the Age Exchange proposal only emerged after every effort had been made to save the existing library, demonstrations, petitions, signature collecting etc etc……but that’s not true. While I admire Sir Ian’s determination (as one did Mrs Thatcher’s whilst hating what she stood far) he started his seduction of the Blackheath Library users’s group at least a year ago. He never joined us on windy street corners at 7 pm, nor did he join us at the Farmers’ Market stall. He used the photos which were taken at the “Read In” day to save the library, for his own Age Exchange publicity. Come on Sir Ian, confess.

    • Kevin Bonavia

      Dear House of joy,
      The stealing of our cake in Blackheath was committed by the Government in forcing heavy and front-loaded cuts on local government, with more socially disadvantaged areas suffering even more because of the loss of targeted funding. As an opponent of the Government, I don’t just think it’s unfair, but also the scale and speed of cuts is both unnecessary and economically wrong-headed. That said, the Mayor did have a limited choice as to where the axe fell – he could have avoided libraries altogether and cut more of other public services, or he could have kept all 12 local libraries open but in a much more skeletal form – there are advantages and disadvantages to the latter option, and they had to be balanced against each other.
      Finally, on the Age Exchange proposal, I definitely agree that Sir Ian is a very determined individual; I would expect him to work to the utmost for the charity he is responsible for and, if its future is to include hosting a local public library, that’s no bad thing. The real effect of the hard campaign by you and so many others was not so much that the Age Exchange proposal “emerged” but that it demonstrated to those involved with the library service changes how important a local library is to the Village – yes, there are several bigger libraries nearby, but we would lose a unique public space for the community. As a result the Mayor insisted that viable alternatives be sought in each of the areas losing a library. It was at that point that proposals such as Age Exchange’s became a real possibility. A lot more work still needs to be done before the proposal is a reality, but I am optimistic because we’re lucky to have a lot of determined people in Blackheath!

  7. Anonymous

    Now that there is a viable (sort of) alternative to retaining the library as was – it is important to ensure that it can attract those of all ages who might wish to make use of it – the size of the space available, the reduction in the number of books on the shelves, and other factors including location, will mean more effort is needed to retain and attract users – young and old. what will be the new attractions? coffee and cakes and places to sit – more access to the internet? etc.

  8. david

    like many others I feel the current arrangement is less than satisfactory but probably better than it might have been . but lack of space for people (readers) and books is a real problem – coffee and cake might attract more users but how can the two elements (library and reminiscence centre) be made to generate greater interest and footfall. Maybe to the books could be much more selective and focus on recent history, and use remote access including the internet for other ‘reading’. Maybe investment in Kindles or PC network as ltewrnative to books – a ‘new age’ library…

    • Adrian Kimberley

      I assume that you did not look at the plans and model (which is now in the front of the AE building) as you would see that the new library will indeed have an ICT room. Not sure about the Kindles as I understand that this would be an expensive way of delivering books as the publishers make libraries pay heavily (and repeatedly) for books to be given out this way.

  9. Gina Raggett

    From Kevin Bonavia: “I understand that arrangements will be made to give (school) groups a larger section of the library for their visits.”
    Sorry, Kevin, but I’m growing increasingly weary of these vague promises which we all know will come to nothing. This latest one simply isn’t realistic. School groups would require virtually the entire library space which would put it out of bounds to other users for considerable periods of time, besides which the noise would render the “study area” unusable: and of course there won’t be enough children’s books anyway. You’ve done a bad thing to children’s library services in Blackheath. Blaming the Government for your failure to fight to keep our library simply won’t wash.

    I appreciate that as a Trustee of Age Exchange you feel bound to defend them at all times and that as a Labour councillor you feel bound to do Steve Bullock’s bidding, but I do so wish you could have remembered that you were elected to represent (among others) the people who made the 92,000 annual visits to the Village Library and the thousands who signed the petition They seem to have come a poor third in your list of priorities, don’t you think?

    • Kevin Bonavia

      Dear Gina,
      I’d have to be a hermit not to appreciate how strongly people feel about our local library. Of all the things I’ve been involved in as a new councillor, this has been the biggest issue by far and the one I’ve spent most of my time on. But it is not the only one – as you say, there are others too.

      Residents have also told me how worried they are about the future of their social care – one of the biggest items of Council expenditure. They may not have thousands of signatures on a petition, but their needs have to be taken into account none the less. You rightly worry about the space for children’s activities (and more does need to be done in the limited space available), but another major worry was the future of children’s centres and all 19 of them in the borough have been kept open.

      So I don’t see the cut in the library budget in isolation. With less money available the question had to be, “Can we keep a viable library service?” This is not about doing the Mayor’s bidding; many councillors in his own party lobbied him hard to ensure more was done to maintain library services in the areas at risk of closure. Part of that included encouraging our residents to lobby him too with petitions and letters. And it got a result – it may not be perfect and you may not be happy with it, but many people want to make it work.

    • Adrian Kimberley

      So was the old library which was basically housed in one big room better for kids and other users to be kept apart? You seem to like complaining for the sake of it! I will get my tape measure out when I am next in Age Exchange, but I suspect that the total floor space will exceed the old and have ways of keeping different users apart.

  10. Adrian Kimberley

    So as not leave Kevin feeling that he is the only one countering the misinformation contained in Gina’s rant.

    One of Age Exchange’s main aims is to build understanding and dialogue between the old and the young. It is not just about providing care for ‘ lonely and disadvantaged elderly people’.

    Are you really expecting AE to provide a library provision for nothing when we the taxpayer were paying before? This seems rather illogical.

    The 5 shelves that are currently on offer are the first part in a multi-phase provision which will take 18 months to complete. If you can find a builder & project manager who could have converted the AE building in the hours between the public library closing and the new one being offered at 11 Blackheath Village I would certainly like them at my house as I have some work that needs doing.

    The new library service will offer far more that the old library ever did. Working ICT, training, child focused activities and spaces. While the dedicated child space might be small, I don’t have the plans, there are I believe flexible spaces on the basement floor in the final provision.

    Surely it is the responsibility of the prep schools to provide their own resources for their children. It is totally unreasonable to expect the tax payer to provide the facilities that their fees should be covering. While I agree that being able to physical browse books and other media is highly desirable, it is likely that Gina is projecting her own feelings of technology onto these 7 years olds who are probably quite adept at using computers. There is also a group of parents from various backgrounds with children of different ages that AE is consulting regarding the children’s provision which has had various ideas on how to enable children to have diverse methods of browsing which should surpass the old style library.

    It is a shame that you are not getting behind this chance to make a library which is fit for purpose in the modern age. I and many others see this unfortunate turn of events as an opportunity to create a vibrant, central community centre which has as one of its main facilities a library. I see it as much more that that and will be offering as much help as I can to make it the best community resource in London within 2 years!

  11. Gina Raggett

    You see, Adrian, it goes something like this:
    According to recent research:
    1: 1 in 3 London schoolchildren doesn’t own a book
    2: 1 in 4 London children leaves primary school with inadequate literacy skills
    3: 50% of the UK prison population is functionally illiterate
    Some connection here, maybe?
    To add to this, schools in south-east London are full to bursting and don’t have room for their own libraries.
    As Kevin Bonavia admits in his response to me:: “You rightly worry about the space for children’s activities (and more does need to be done in the limited space available)”.
    Meanwhile, am I angry about the loss of library facilities for Blackheath’s children? You betcha.

  12. You see, Gina, it goes something like this

    I am fully aware of the problems around literacy and numeracy which is why I spent two years of *my* life training to be an adult education teacher and taught those subjects in one of London’s prisons. I have and continue to work with children inside and outside of schools in the Lewisham area on literacy and numeracy. I am sometimes shocked at what kids haven’t learnt at school but I have decided to do something about it rather than spend my time looking up statistics to wring my hands over.

    Meanwhile, am I angry about what has happened. Yes. Am I going to let negative forces derail attempts to provide a solution. No.

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